Wednesday 26 October 2022

Sunak's Braverman Gamble

I don't like egg. But if it must be served, my preference is on the face of pundits stealing a living by pretending to know things about politics. Rishi Sunak's hello speech outside Number 10 was one such occasion. Gone was the awkward delivery of his CCHQ address on Monday, this was nice guy Rishi. Relatable Rishi. Grown-up-in-the-room Rishi. Indeed, briefcase commentators - such as James O'Brien and Ian Dunt - used that exact phrase in conjunction with our new Prime Minister. The qualities they crave in a leader, which boils down to a suit, calm and fluent speaking, and vibes are all present. Following Boris Johnson's defenestration and the brief but destructive reign of Liz Truss, they can sleep easy at night knowing one of their kind of people is in charge.

Having got carried away on a reverie of fantasy, they were brought crashing down when Sunak's cabinet appointments began. In particular, the re-appointment of Suella Braverman, who was sacked/resigned in disgrace a week ago, as Home Secretary. At that moment, the hearts of a thousand centrist dads broke and illusions were shattered. They had convinced themselves, without any evidence, that he was a nice Tory who'd respect the rules of political decency. More fool them for their stupidity. He is as unconcerned with their normative expectations as any of his predecessors: power politics within the Conservative Party must always come first.

It's not hard to see why Sunak gave Braverman her job back. Christopher Hope suggests there was a deal over the weekend between the two. It's said she received six calls and a home visit from Sunak to bring her round, and to ensure she didn't sign up for Johnson's comeback bid. The job is the quid pro quo she extracted. If the story is true, it demonstrates Sunak's complete lack of nous. Braverman is of the party's far right, but she's not a leader among the Tory fringes as her dismal performance in this summer's contest demonstrated. It's doubtful her declaration for Johnson would have made any difference. She, like any other Tory with half a political brain, knew his return was a non-starter, but Sunak's desperation to avoid the chance of a membership vote meant she could name her price. It doesn't speak well of future judgement calls the new Prime Minister is going to have to make.

Unfortunately for Sunak, there are plenty among Tory ranks who think this appointment was a big mistake. The Times, who played a role in shafting Truss and Johnson as they undermined the basis of Tory legitimacy, have an axe to grind for as long as Braverman sticks around the cabinet. Surely he will face the same lack of discipline, the same shooting from the hip, and the same behind-the-scenes rows over immigration as his short-lived predecessor did. And she will prove to be a major road block to catching votes. Tory voters swinging towards Labour, the people Sunak needs to keep on board, find her politics grotesque. The days of political profiteering on the backs of immigrants are diminishing, even if the newspaper editorials give the opposite impression.

At the same time, while Sunak has unnecessarily saddled himself with the Braverman liability he's hoping that his cabinet is broad enough to get his programme through. On paper, it is an alliance of the hard right and far right. The return to austerity appeases those of a Thatcherite bent, and the hope is Braverman and Badenoch will produce enough anti-woke outrage to please the Tory papers and keep the red wall'ers on side. If you can't shield their constituents from cuts because the Westminster wisdom has it that these seats voted Brexit for bigoted reasons, they'll chew on some racisms and transphobias instead and be happy with that.

Unfortunately for Sunak, it appears he missed one of the key lessons of the Truss interlude: that if you threaten people's living standards, they will turn against you. He's not about to imperil the incomes of pensioners or deliberately stoke inflation further, but another round of austerity will impact on millions of votes the Tories need to keep to stand a chance at the next election. If this happens, no amount of state cruelty or inflammatory rhetoric will stop his party from getting the historic drubbing it so thoroughly deserves.

Image Credit


Old Trot said...

I noticed at the vacuous PMQs today that millionaire Sunak refused to confirm that his administration will honour Truss's very recent promise to raise benefits at least level with current inflation. A question asked by the SNP's Ian Blackford - not Starmer . Though of course despite oft being asked the same question, neither Starmer nor his Shadow Cabinet will promise this vital support for the most vulnerable either (or the major extra funding for the NHS or nurses) ! In fact Nulabour has no positive policy 'offer' at all to inspire the millions facing destitution or severe hardship in the coming months or years of continued Tory rule - except more weapons, and a rise in 'Defence' spending to the 3% the Tories are also promising. So we are faced with a continuing bandit kleptocrat Tory government- just having done another 'deckchairs on the Titanic' minor personnel switcheroo - or a neoliberal Nulabour Tory 2 government eventually - just as keen as the Tories to get into bed with those big capitalist funders that Blair and Brown courted so assiduously. The UK's facade 'managed democracy' grows more blatant every day - and ever more authoritarian in its astonishingly oppressive proposed new laws against any type of popular protest - and trades union strike action too . Something's surely gonna blow eventually . Apparently the French public are currently gobsmacked at the compliance of us Brits to levels of state coercion and ruling class banditry that would have long ago brought a million French protestors onto the streets. It seems mass strikes and civil disobedience are all that is now left as mechanisms of resistance. Read the chilling Oliver Eagleton 'The Starmer Project' on DPP Starmer's authoritarian role during the last widespread rioting for a flavour of which side Nulabour will be on when it happens.

Blissex said...

I have a slightly different take on ms. Braverman:

* Sunak is a frontman for the "blob" and enjoys their well educated advice.
* She indeed has a negligible power base among the kippers, only notoriety.
* She was thusly appointed to be the token kipper in the cabinet.
* She was also appointed to be the sacrificial scapegoat for the Home Office.

I think it is clever politics. With some differences her role is similar to that of token corbynist Angela Rayner in the starmer shadow cabinet.

«if you threaten people's living standards, they will turn against you. He's not about to imperil the incomes of pensioners or deliberately stoke inflation further, but another round of austerity will impact on millions of votes»

All he has to do is to keep most of the 80 seat majority, and for most of them their living standards depend mostly on property, and currently property mortgagees are doing splendidly from inflation, as real mortgage interest rates are deeply negative and inflation is cutting fast the real value of their mortgage principal, and rents are rising by 15% per year in many/most areas. It is transparent that high supply-side inflation has been contrived to reduce significantly the real value of both wages and mortgage debt, to the double joy of "investors" in property.

There are some possible negatives for Sunak though:

* Some Conservative votes still value the contribution of their wage to their living standards and are not solely fixated on property.
* Many Conservative voters are older owners, which have fully paid off their mortgages, so inflation is not benefit them as to that, even if lifts property prices and rents as "everybody knows" that property always rises faster than inflation.
* The falling living standards of renters, buyers, upgraders means they can afford housing less, but that can be solved with a combination of higher immigration and doubling up.

There are signs however that even in the Home Counties and London property prices are falling, and if that happens then the rage of Conservative voters will cost Sunak a lot more than 80 seats.

«the Tories need to keep»

Among those who can be affected by more austerity there are not that many Conservative (or New Labour) voters, but there are many abstainers.

Old Trot said...

Still pumping out the bogus line that the general mass of mortgage holders are sitting pretty, and even apparently 'really' paying 'negative real interest rates ' (what ??) Blissex !

The harsh reality is that millions of lower and even middle income mortgage holders are currently totally 'borrowed up' to the hilt with a huge range of non mortgage debts , from car loans to credit cards, and their prospects of inflation-matching wage rises are negligable. In fact (as was very recently very well illustrated by Sky's Ed Conway) the levels of personal indebtedness amongst the generality of mortgage holders is hugely greater than during the last wave of circa 15% inflation in the 1970's , and thus the average house owner is far less capable of meeting those massively increased monthly new (very, very, real) hugely higher mortgage repayments than the likes of myself were in the 1970's.

And how many renters , also burdened by a huge burden of loans, and on wages definitely NOT matching inflation, are going to be able to pay your trumped 15% PER ANNUM rent increases for very long ? Not many, Blissex. The rentier class can only make these rent super profits if there is a mass renter base able to pay those ever-increasing rents ! The big property price crash is definitely coming, and Tory mortgage holders, including the landlord class, will be very upset and resentful indeed. There are simply not enough oldie Tory voters with paid-off mortgages (on houses now going to significantly fall in value) to cover for the mass of Tory-voting potential defaulters in the near future. Time you gave up this obsession with the eternal stability of the 'property owners/mortgagees will always vote Tory' meme. We are now in a whole new ballgame - with no democratic route out of ever-greater immiseration for the mass of our citizens.

Blissex said...

«This is already happening at all levels, two recent examples:»

More examples:
«Elle Young*, 29, who works in arts funding, lives in an illegal sublet in London to make her rent more affordable. She is one of five people living in a three-bedroom property. [...] She fears that if she is forced to move out she would have nowhere to live due to soaring rental costs. “I’ve seen rooms in house shares being priced between £850 and £1,200 where I live. I can’t afford that,” she says. “We’re not allowed to be here and I’ve also got no protection but I have no choice.”»

That “rooms in house shares being priced between £850 and £1,200” is not a problem if she shares that room with other people, Hong Kong style:
«One afternoon during my mother’s stay, I took her to the Hong Kong Museum of History. Part of the museum’s permanent exhibition includes a reconstruction of a room in a postwar tenement building, meant to recreate the rough conditions that Hong Kong’s increasingly poor population lived in at the time. My mom’s eyes lit up when we turned the corner and the exhibit came into view. “This looks just like our first apartment! I used to sleep on the top bunk with your dai kau fu and yi yi,” my mom said, pointing to a small bunk bed tucked into the corner. “We had to sleep this way,” she gestured, holding her arm widthwise across along the bed, slicing her hand three times to represent the three children who slept there. I imagined my mother there, sleeping in a bed with her siblings like sardines, in a room so iconic in its squalor that it’s now preserved in a history museum. “The bottom bunk was where your po po and kau fu would sleep,” she continued. “And your gong gong would sleep on a cot.” The bathroom and kitchen were shared with another family of six.»

In thatcherism winners must win and losers must lose, so shink of all those tory voters well chuffed that in a very thin market any increase in housing demand can generate much higher rents per square foot thanks to doubling up.

Under thatcherism winners must win and losers must lose, so it is very important for the media to focus on the things that really matter to the "left", such as which kipper or which neoliberal personality has been drinking beers at work meetings or has spent a a load of cash wallpaper.

«The big property price crash is definitely coming»

Sure, the question is when, and whether the government will refrain from opening up immigration even more to incentivize doubling up so as to delay the inevitable.

Alan said...

“The harsh reality is that millions of lower and even middle income mortgage holders are currently totally 'borrowed up' to the hilt with a huge range of non mortgage debts , from car loans to credit cards, and their prospects of inflation-matching wage rises are negligable.”

This is spot on Old Trot.

No doubt those of us in this position will be demonised by the Tories and the media - and, hey, maybe even Rachel Reeves if we’re really lucky - as irresponsible spendthrifts, rather than with any comprehension of how millions of us ended up in these situations.

But that will be worth it if Tory support collapses sufficiently that they get booted out at the next GE. Like Phil and most who post on here, I worry a lot about the opportunities for real social and economic transformation that Labour will miss in government, but at least the Tories will have lost and - more importantly - fewer people are likely to die.

Blissex said...

«any comprehension of how millions of us ended up in these situations.»

It is easy to comprehend why so many people would borrow 10-20 times their wage at 2-3% nominal interest (that is 0% in real terms, given 2-3% inflation) to speculate in a totally unproductive asset that had been rising in valuation by 7-10% per year for decades, 100% achieved by redistribution from the lower classes, as arranged by thatcherite governments to win votes from thatcherite voters like them, wanting to join the "Daily Mail Dream"

“From the minute the average couple buys a home they're constantly calculating how much they'll make when they sell it, and most won't sell for much less once that day comes.”

“Certainly we overstretched ourselves when we bought our lovely period home for £419,000 in 2002. But with mortgage companies practically throwing loans at us in a rising property market, we slept soundly at night, smug in the knowledge the house was making us money. [ ... ] The valuer had barely been in the house for five minutes yet we were able to borrow a further £80,000. [ ... ] We were lulled into a false sense of security about our wealth. Whenever we overspent we just remortgaged without comprehending the consequences of taking yet more equity out of the property. [ ... ]
In our defence, we weren’t spending the money on expensive designer clothes, luxurious holidays or flash cars. Much of it was going on school fees and upkeep of the house. By the beginning of 2008 we had remortgaged three times, taking out a staggering £500,000 loan on a house that wasn’t worth much more. Our interest-only mortgage payments had soared to nearly £3,000 a month.
Which would have been just about palatable if the market hadn’t crashed. Now we were faced with the fear of living in a home we could no longer afford that would probably plummet in value.”

That “millions of us ended up” choosing the "Daily Mail Dream" so enthusiastically has had enormous political consequences, primarily the switch of most of the middle class from an alliance with the other proletarians in the lower classes to an alliance with the other rentiers in the upper class, as they became more invested in their property than in their jobs.

“I will put it bluntly I don't want to see my home lose £100 000 in value just so someone else can afford to have a home and neither will most other people if they are honest with themselves”

“I raised the problematic policy on my CLP Facebook group. I was stunned by the support for the policy from the countless landlords who were Party members! "I can't afford to give my tenants a rent holiday" "This is my pension, I'll go bust" etc etc. Absolutely stunning. I had no idea how many private landlords there were in the Party. Kinda explains a lot...”

Blissex said...

«This is already happening at all levels, two recent examples:»

Ooops, I must have failed to post it, here are the original two examples...

[... doubling to pay rising rents ...] if they lived in a 2 bed flat, they can switch to a 1 bed flat and pay the same rent, if a 1 bed flat they can switch to a studio, if 1 per bedroom, 2 per bedroom, if 2 per bedroom, 4 per bedroom, etc. This is already happening at all levels, two recent examples:
«I once worked with a Pole. He was the senior developer on my team. He said when he came to the UK he started as a builder and lived in a studio flat with 10 other eastern european immigrants, all working on the same site as him. Grim.»
«The rising cost of renting and buying a house has led to more over-50s looking for house and flat shares, according to property-sharing websites. what is it like sharing when you're over 50? Karen Miles, 66, moved into a 13-person house five years ago to save money. She was previously living in a one-bedroom flat just outside Eastbourne but struggled to cover her bills alongside rent of around £560 a month. Now she pays £500 a month for a room, excluding bills, in a shared house in the town. Her housemates are a mix of ages, ranging from early-20s to early-50s. [...] Karen has tried to look for a one-bedroom flat to rent but with prices increasing she has struggled to find something affordable. [...] Leading flat-sharing site SpareRoom said it had seen a 239% increase in 55 to 64-year-olds looking for house-shares since 2011 and a 114% increase for the 45-to-54 age group. However people aged 25 to 34 years old still make up the majority of sharers. Meanwhile, Cohabitas, a site for over-40s, said it had seen a 51% increase in users aged 55 to 64.»

My guess is that a majority of the readers of this blog will at this point think "There would would I go but for the grace of Thatcher and Blair".