Sunday 24 March 2024

Pleading with the Core Vote

Perhaps it's the pedant in me, but I'm a firm believer in accurately portraying what people say and do. That includes those who never extend the same courtesy to others. Like leading Tories, for example. When reports circulated suggesting that Jeremy Hunt, he who apparently saved Britain from Liz Truss's foolishness, had gone on the record to say a £100,000/year salary was "not much", the antennae perked up. Surely Hunt, number two in the government and a deft ducker-and-diver as evidenced from his time as health minister wouldn't say what most Tory politicians talk about when no one's eavesdropping?

Writing on Twitter, he said "I spoke to a lady from Godalming about eligibility for the government's childcare offer which is not available if one parent is earning over £100k. That is an issue I would really like to sort out after the next election as I am aware that it is not [a] huge salary in our area if you have a mortgage to pay." On Laura Kuenssberg this Sunday morning, it was pointed out the average salary in his Surrey constituency wasn't even half of that. And all he could say was mortgage payments and the cost of living means that even those pulling down six figures "feel under pressure".

In an age where feelings normally don't care about your facts, he's right. Surrey average house prices sit at just over £630k. Servicing a mortgage on that typically costs over £3,000/month. Which is a fair whack when the take home pay for a £100,000 salary is around £5460/month. Out of the remainder our family has to pay car running costs, perhaps childcare, and all the other expenses that come with being affluent in an affluent county. The context of his comments, of considering raising the threshold for help with childcare costs, does speak to a concern that exists among the best paid. Or, to put it another way, a layer of people who would normally support the Conservatives are feeling the pinch.

Hunt has got to know that his "won't anyone think of the six figure earners?" rhetoric is going to make the Tories look even more out of touch. Despite the "good news" of faster-than-forecast inflation falls, rising real wages have got a way to go before they make up for the price hikes of the last couple of years. And so any affecting of concern for the well heeled implies an uncomfortable question: how does Hunt expect those on a lot less manage? And his answer, apart from talking up tax cuts, is ... nothing.

As has been apparent for some time, the Tories have given up. The question isn't whether they're going to lose the next election, it's about the margin of Labour's victory. And now poll after poll is flattering the so-called Reform party, despite its quite modest performance, the spectre of the sort of disintegration that raised its head during the Tories worst ever performance in a national election - the EU elections five years ago - is back. Party strategy has to be committed to securing the core vote. Hence over the last six months the obsessions with immigration and tax. It's why Rishi Sunak is prepared to routinely humiliate himself by pretending Palestinian solidarity protests are the extremist threat to the British state, and pledging to all and sundry that the planes to Rwanda will take off no matter the cost. He's doing what he thinks it will take to save his party, traditionally the most trusted repository of bourgeois political interests, from cataclysm.

And this explains why Hunt is doing what he's doing. Talking about extending the helping hand of the welfare state to top earners isn't going to win over new voters, because it's not supposed to. He's hoping a few more crumbs on top of the National Insurance cuts, which disproportionately favoured those on large incomes, will be enough to arrest the movement of a few hundreds of thousands of votes in what should be safe seats. All so that there might be a viable parliamentary party left after the election.

This is the horizon of Tory ambition now. It says everything about the depth of their crisis that they must bribe those parts of the electorate they should have in the bag.

Image Credit


Boffy said...

The Tories are going to split before/after the election, much as happened over the Repeal of The Corn Laws, nearly 200 years ago, and which created the modern Conservative Party. The Tories will move to Reform, and the Liberal Conservatives will, merge with, in some form (meaning take over), the Lib Dems, moving back to their post WWII, position of pro-Europe, pro big capital, conservative social-democracy.

Labour has abandoned that latter position, collapsing in a right-wing populist search for votes on the basis of lowest common denominator into reactionary petty-bourgeois nationalism of the type the Tories have championed over the last 20 years, and now the ground on which Reform stands.

It makes electoral sense for the Conservative Party to leave Blue Labour fighting with Reform over that ground between them, splitting the reactionary petty-bourgeois vote, whilst the Conservatives return to the ground of conservative social-democracy, swamping with their resources the Liberals and to an extent Greens and nationalists, that have ineffectively been its vanguard in recent years.

The conservative social-democrats, like Hunt know that there is no future in Brexitism, whether in a reform or Blue Labour garb, and will quickly be disredited once Starmer is in government, leaving the Conservative-Liberal Party, to resume the role that Cameron sought as the heir of Blair (but failed miserably) as the first eleven of large-scale, multinational capital, which requires a rapid return to the EU. Expect to see the Liberals used in that rapid transformation of the Conservative Party, in the next couple of years.

The Conservatives already know they are at risk on the flank of their more affluent, professional middle-class voters - the majority of whom opposed Brexit, and abhor the Red Wall Tories - from the Liberals, and, in places the Greens. The Conservatives need to shore up THAT core vote, as also part of restoring the support of the ruling class, which they have lost, as a result of Brexitism.

It offers no progressive long-term solution, but with Blue Labour careening in the opposite direction, it will be seen as a "lessser-evil".

Sean Dearg said...

It's slightly disturbing that the only comment you have had, Phil, is the one from @Boffy. Not so much a comment as a through the looking glass fantasy of an alternative political reality in which everything is just as now, but at an acute angle, or is it upside down? Stranger Things meets Boris and Liz on tour with a bus logoed up with messages about the Corn Laws, as the Mad Hatter shares a manifesto with JRM based on high tea and insider trading. Meanwhile the Tories shed their skin and take on the feathers of a long extinct predatory land bird, eating their own in the process.

Yep. That makes about as much sense.

FWIW I admire your determination to find some method in the flailing of the Tories. Is Hunt trying to secure his vote in Godalming and Ash by lamenting the desperation of those on £100k faced with childcare bills and the mortgage? Or does he just actually think that? After all, he's worth a lot more than that, so it might seem like a near poverty income to him. Bear in mind that the number of voters in the constituency who earn near or above that is almost certainly heavily outweighed by those that don't, and we can begin too ask, shore up those votes (which will mostly have gone to him anyway) but at the cost of a lot of others who will be antagonised by his apparent out-of-touch-ness.

His main appeal in the area is that he is part of the local 'aristocracy' - the Surrey Set - who have run the place since William 1st, and he sorts out people's problems (he's seen as a responsive MP by quite a few). As well as being 'one of us' and he is intimately networked with the wealthy financier class, as well as having connections through many years of high office. That all plays well with the £100k plus set, but not so much with the rest. In which case why double down on it like this? They are looking for him to restore the world as they imagine it used to be, or at least to help them directly. Worrying about people on high incomes doesn't send a message of caring about them, at all. Or of a return to the golden days when Britain was Great, beer was cheap, people knew their place, and we all looked the same. Odd.