Sunday, 21 August 2022

The Tory Addiction to Fantasy

According to The Sun, to meet the cost of living crisis the Treasury is mulling over discounts on heating bills by prescription. Present yourself to a GP and they'll certify your impoverished status. Not-at-all coincidentally, Liz Truss is looking at schemes for retaining GPs as thousands are opting for early retirement and, thanks to 12 years of Tory government, not enough new doctors are getting trained to meet demand.

In The Sun write up, which is clearly a kite-flying exercise on behalf of Number 11, the prescription for lower bills would involve either a cash handout from the local council or a voucher. The advantages of the scheme are that it would, apparently, tackle those in need more effectively than a blanket Universal Credit increase. Nor do the Treasury "want to be handing cash bungs to the ultra rich", because millionaires routinely claim social security. It is, obviously, a scheme so absurd that even Tory backbenchers can see it's unworkable. Where are the GPs going to come from who do these assessments? What about the existing NHS backlog? And how is everyone in need going to get themselves to their local surgery?

Not only are the practicalities obviously impractical, the wider politics of targeted help are toxic for the Tories. Up until Partygate and its aftermath did for Boris Johnson, the problems that have bedevilled the government have assumed the appearance of external shocks, not least thanks to expert media management and the happiness of the press to play ball. As such the mismanagement of the pandemic, Covid procurement fraud, the consequences of Johnson's hard Brexit, the NHS crisis, and the shocks the war in Ukraine has had on energy and food prices were never their fault. And so the Tories styled it out. But refusing to do anything or coming up short, when the opposition are more or less united over pushing a bill freeze, means they're courting a great deal of political pain. And even worse, if the Tories decide to means test support there are millions of the (ugh) "just-about-managings" and the better off for whom energy inflation is too much to stomach. They know who'll save them money and who's making them poorer through inaction.

How is it that the Tories have arrived at half-baked and, from the point of view of their survival, dangerous ideas? If it was Number 11 alone floating a daft idea, then think nothing of it. But Liz Truss is full of them. As is Rish! Sunak. The ideas offered are at cross purposes with political realities, and plenty of Tory MPs know it. It's not difficult to fathom why. To greater or lesser extents, all governments suffer from drift. The leading politicians inhabit the rarefied world of the state, the Commons, and the media. Their contact with real people at constituency surgeries is seldom as minions tend to cover them, and their association meetings are disproportionately crammed with the better off, the career-committed, and the blinkered. Becoming absorbed entirely by this world, the stakes of this circumscribed game are often misrecognised as mass electoral preferences. Therefore, Truss and Sunak's tilting toward far right populism and the obsession with tax cuts doesn't just chime with the elite interests feeding through the Tory party, it's also thanks to a genuine misrecogntion and misreading of the moment. This miscrecognition, however, is not a foible. It's structural, a property of the bourgeois political culture they inhabit. For example, when Truss got bodied over regional public sector pay she u-turned pretty sharpish but she carries on with her anti-tax, anti-green leadership campaign almost as if Britain isn't gripped by systemic crisis. The longer a party is in government, the greater its estrangement from the political real. Fantasy increasingly becomes all, and the Tories are providing ample evidence for yet another case study.

What this means is when Truss wins, for surely she must, it will turn out the schemes she has paraded in front of Tory party members weren't just for their consumption. Having stood on a right wing programme that can only exacerbate our malaise, she will be expected to see it through by her parliamentary support. And that means more hard encounters with opinion polls, more widespread resistance and, undoubtedly, a government constantly forced into retreat and disarray. The road forward is clear. Unless Truss about turns and comes up with a universal, generous plan to meet the crisis, the propensity for wacky schemes will soon manifest. And shortly after that, electoral doom will start rising on the Tory horizon.

Image Credit


Old Trot said...

God article, Phil. And of course it isn't , unfortunately, only the Tory Leadership contenders, and their Ayn Randist supporters, trapped in their ideological bubbles. This nonsense 'exclusive' from The Guardian today:

".... Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss could give the government a double-figure bounce in the polls once she is installed in No 10, according to internal Labour analysis.

A memo drawn up by Keir Starmer’s director of strategy, Deborah Mattinson, claimed the foreign secretary could dramatically improve Conservative fortunes."

And the source of this wisdom from Starmer's ghastly RIGHT WING con artist 'voter opinion guru', Deborah Mattinson ? Yep, it's more dross from those daft , tiny number' 'focus groups' of usually ex Tory , supposed 'swing voters' , that the Mandelson/Starmer Nu Labour2 Party let drive their every tactic and 'policy' offer ! Starmer's Labour are as trapped in their hermetic Blairite tribute band ideology bubble as the Trussites/ERG are trapped in their Thatcher tribute act bubble - in each case not apparently noticing that the economic times and UK economic base is radically different than in those far off eras. Both , equally neoliberal, rival groups of the professional political class, having seen off the mild challenge of Left reformist Corbynism, are utterly incapable of reacting effectively to the ever-growing UK economic cost of living and low productivity, and the disfunctional privatised industries and utilities crisis about to engulf millions of lower paid citizens.

The arrogant liberals like the tiresomely omnipresent on this blog, property price-obsessed, Blissex character, will no doubt sneer as usual at the threat to social stability from inchoate uprisings of our poorest citizens, combined with ever-wider strike action by the better organised, as the cost of living crisis really bites over the winter. But the reality is that the Tory/Blairite neoliberal counter revolution of 1979 to today, is finally reaping the whirlwind it has sown, in a looming large scale breakdown of our usually so stable society. Out of the chaos to come something even nastier may yet arise - as desperate people look to the siren voices of the radical Far Right, in the political vacuum left by a failed identitarian middle class-led UK 'Left'.

Blissex said...

«Not-at-all coincidentally, Liz Truss is looking at schemes for retaining GPs as thousands are opting for early retirement and, thanks to 12 years of Tory government, not enough new doctors are getting trained to meet demand.»
“Last year 59% of new registrations in England had been trained by other countries, writes Prof Rachel Jenkins [...] The number of medical student training places in the UK needs to double. This should not be as expensive to Treasury as feared”
«Unpublished figures from the General Medical Council (GMC) show that 7,377 (37%) of the 19,977 doctors who started work in the NHS in 2021 had a British qualification. A total of 10,009 new medics learned medicine outside the UK and the EEA – so-called international medical graduates (IMGs) – compared with 9,968 within. [...] In 2021 a total of 1,645 doctors from India began working in the UK, as did 1,629 from Pakistan, 1,250 from Egypt, 1,197 from Nigeria and 522 from Sudan – a total of 6,243. They comprised 31.3% of all the medics who joined the GMC register, and almost two-thirds (62.4%) of the IMGs.
Britain is also recruiting more and more nurses and midwives from outside the EEA. A total of 23,408 of such professionals began working in the UK in 2021-22, almost nine times more than the 2,719 who did so in 2017-18, according to recent Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) figures. Two-thirds of last year’s recruits trained in India or the Philippines.

In a global job market logic, that is great news for racial equity: many people from the rest of the world (85% people of colour) can achieve well paid middle class jobs in England (85% white), and english taxpayers benefit too, as the new workers are already trained at the expense of foreign taxpayers; no need to spend english taxpayer funds subsidising the training of students from the UK (85% white). That of course applies pretty much to any degree subject, given the enormous supply of already-trained graduates in every subject from the rest of the world (85% people of colour), for example in engineering and computing.>
«The EEC was, in Castle’s view, ‘a circle of privilege’, a club of rich, white countries looking out for themselves. As Cabinet discussed joining EEC in 1967, Castle erupted: ‘Let us realise that we are deciding on the destruction of the Commonwealth: not only through the abandonment of [trade] preferences but above all as a result of the immigration priority we shall have to give to the [Europeans]’. [...] Castle asked, ‘And what kind of internationalism is it that says that henceforth this country must give priority to a Frenchman over an Indian, a German over an Australian, an Italian over a Malaysian? This isn’t the language of internationalism… It is Euro-jingoism.’»

The same of course applies to subsidising the education of any privileged whites of any citizenship and preferring them for jobs, if the logic is that in a global job market there should be no national preferences, and in particular if national preferences are in effect racial discrimination as Barbara Castle argued in 1967 already.

Blissex said...

«The longer a party is in government, the greater its estrangement from the political real»

Parties in government have the benefit of often very good contact with the real via the civil service, and regardless are well in contact with their base via local party organizations, and the Conservative Associations are rather vocal to their MPs.

The issue with the Conservatives is that "the political real" for them is pretty much limited to "Middle England", but the same applies to the LibDems and New Labour. That "Middle England" is shrinking is a problem for them, but the numbers are shrinking quite slowly.

R Sylvester "article in The Times" (2009):
«A No 10 aide admits that Mr Brown does not have the natural empathy with the middle classes that Mr Blair did. “The moment Tony sent his son to the Oratory those voters thought — ‘he gets it’,” he says. “Gordon wouldn’t understand that. He knows that he has to reassure Middle England but he’s not part of it.”»

T May, "Conservative Conference speech" (2002):
«There's a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the Nasty Party. I know that's unfair. You know that's unfair but it's the people out there we need to convince - and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents. No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger-wagging. We need to reach out to all areas of our society. I want us to be the party that represents the whole of Britain and not merely some mythical place called "Middle England", but the truth is that as our country has become more diverse, our party has remained the same.»

Blissex said...

«the enormous supply of already-trained graduates in every subject from the rest of the world»

If every university in the UK was closed, there would still be no trouble sourcing graduates from the global job market. I guess that is a something that the Conservatives would like, at least partially (they probably would like to keep the Russell Group universities as credential suppliers for "Middle England" students, and Oxbridge as finishing schools for upper class students).

«subsidising the education of any privileged whites of any citizenship»

Many UK universities, given the current huge inflation rates, are asking for a large increase in the £9,000 subsidised fee ceiling, probably to £12,000 (probably in two yearly steps).

The Conservatives are instead pondering eliminating the subsidised £9,000 fee reserved for UK students, and letting universities charge whatever they want to UK students, with no subsidies, the same as for rest of the world students, for example, to end that discrimination. I doubt that "Middle England" voters would be please, so probably the withdrawal of subsidised places for UK students will be partial, from "unproductive" degrees and "lower rank" universities first.

Old Trot said...

The global US CITI banking group analysts are now forecasting 1976-level inflation of 18% for the UK next year. They may be wrong as to the max level which will be reached, but it will be in that ballpark. This makes the key 'policy' offered by the Starmer/Mandelson Blairite tribute act Labour Party of, wait for it - "a really, really, BIG home insulation programme" (golly) a real election winner ! Such a programme, though good for the longer term, will find thousands of our poorer citizens dead from cold and hunger long before such a programme makes any inroads into the UK cost of living crisis. And although even most TORY voters now want the energy companies and Rail renationalised, Starmer and co think this is too expensive ! As each day goes by now the likelyhood of a very 'unBritish' social explosion well beyond the 'Poll Tax Riots' or the fabled 1979 Winter of Discontent ' looms ever larger !

Zoltan Jorovic said...

I think Phil is correct that Truss will attempt to bring some of her wacky ideas to reality, only to find that reality isn't very accommodating. What seems to be missing from some analysis is that the economy depends on millions of people buying stuff. If most of their money is going on gas, electricity and food, a lot of businesses are going to find they have a dearth of customers. Which means, Middle England will start to feel the pain too. Even those on cosy pensions might start to find they don't stretch as far, and that many of the local shops and services they use are closing.

Only those completely 'insulated' by real wealth will be unscathed. But even they might notice unemployment rising, businesses folding, crime and violence increasing, services crumbling. On the plus side there will be more people willing to do servile work, on the downside, they have to breathe the same air and use the same sewers as the rest of us. And the populist rags will try to redirect the anger, but they might find people stop buying it - literally and metaphorically.