The Tory manifesto is a wolf in wolf’s clothing

25 May 2017

THE TORY MANIFESTO, Forward Together, is a smoke and mirrors exercise. Journalists who are easily fooled or, more commonly, out to fool others, have claimed May is stealing Labour’s clothes.

Evidence for this are manifesto pledges for price controls on utilities, the right to take (unpaid) leave to care for family members, new technical colleges, protections for workers exploited by the gig economy, a guarantee on retaining workers’ rights derived from European Union laws, and employee representatives in the boardrooms of Britain’s big companies.

But do these limited policies really amount to a wholesale raid on Labour’s wardrobe? With dark glasses, it might well be confused for a Blue Labour costume – the pet project of Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas that Ed Miliband had a brief flirtation with. But the clue is in the name; Glasman and Cruddas were only stealing Tory ideas to create a programme based around work, family, patriotism and immigration controls.

May is hardly breaking from Cameron’s “big society” or “compassionate conservatism” – merely laying it on with a trowel. The big story in this election of course, is not whether May has broken from Thatcherism, but how Corbyn has broken Labour from Blairism.

After UKIP and the Brexit shock, after Donald Trump’s victory and the rise of an antiglobalisation movement of the right in Europe, the Tories believe it is possible to poach droves of former Labour voters in the de-industrialised  North and Midlands. Thatcherism’s Nasty Party legacy is ingrained there, which explains all the media white noise about May’s supposed break with a Tory leader who has been dead for years and out of power for decades.

To get a landslide May knows she needs to mop up not just the UKIP voters but also the minority of pro-Brexit Labour voters. These are still experiencing the delusional empowerment of the Brexit vote – believing that “we” (ordinary people) showed “them” (the London and metropolitan establishment). The Tories hope some superficial policies plus a monopoly on the media will be enough to carry enough votes to secure a majority that will be unassailable once the harsh reality of Brexit sinks in.

Theresa May claims another vote is necessary to give her a stronger hand in the Brexit negotiations, though no serious opposition to it in parliament was in view. Those who hoped for some clarity on ‘Brexit means Brexit’ will be disappointed. The best we get is, 

“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.”

So the only real content of Brexit is the promise to end free movement of labour, underlined by a repetition of Cameron’s manifesto pledge to reduce it to tens of thousands rather than 200-300 thousand average. This reactionary pandering to national chauvinism, cultivated by the Tory tabloids for decades, runs against the interests of both the British employers who face a shortage of skilled labour and working class people who need EU nurses, doctors, porters, in the understaffed NHS plus a host of other industries, including agriculture and building, which have relied on migrant labour for 150 years.

Of course the Tories’ manifesto promises to allow in most of these essential workers, and doubtless when the figures are added up each year the pledge to reduce immigration to tens of thousands will be exposed as a con. What is certain is that with the right to be here removed, insecurity will be the order of the day for non-UK workers; deportations of students and workers who finish their courses or lose their jobs, and increased exploitation of them by unscrupulous employers who will prey on their uncertain status.

Meanwhile the racist Tory rags will use every twist and turn of the negotiations with the European Union to whip up hatred and division – the demand that Britain pays the debt it owes to the EU, a possible withdrawal by France of its guarding of Britain’s borders against refugees in Calais, escalating hostility against Scottish nationalists.

The Manifesto also targets the rights under international law of those seeking asylum from wars that Britain and its US patron started, or supplied arms to, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and the UK-abetted Saudi carnage in Yemen. It pledges to slash asylum claims by only offering refuge to those who make an application in the first country to which they fled rather than to those who have made it to Britain’s borders.

Attacking the unions

May’s pro-worker promises turn out to be cheap tricks, like the right to a year’s unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or new baby – great if you can afford to lose a year’s pay. Employee reps on company boards is yet another con. According to City AM this means that stock exchange listed companies will be asked to either create stakeholder advisory panels, designating an existing non-executive director as an employee representative, or directly appointing a worker representative to the board.

But when it comes to union members it is a different story altogether. Here, a further toughening of the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe, are the prelude to an attack on the remaining bastions of trade unions – the public sector, especially local government and the NHS.

Promised attacks include a minimum 50 per cent turnout; public sector ballots will require 40 per cent  of all those entitled to vote on top of a simple majority. A scabs’ charter will be brought in allowing bosses to hire agency workers to break strikes and further restrict the already draconian picketing rules. Finally, after failing to break the PCS union, the manifesto promises even tougher legislation on union subscriptions and facility time. 

Slashing Welfare

The Tory manifesto is short on serious costing of their proposals but it is littered with damaging cuts. So confident is May of a landslide that she has decided to cut back on pensioners’ income – although this appears to have backfired spectacularly.

She promises to recover the cost of home care in old-age from a person’s estate when they die if they leave more than £100,000; effectively a major increase in death duty and to replace the ‘triple lock’ on pensions with a ‘double l’ock – pensions will rise in line with average earnings or inflation, scrapping the 2.5 per cent minimum.

Then we have the scrapping universal free school lunches for primary school pupils; replacing them with free breakfasts and means tested free lunches for poor children at a tenth of the cost.

All these measures demonstrate the Tories’ hatred of universal entitlement and the desire to encourage charity mongering and means testing as a proven method of shaming the poor into not claiming their rights.

All these cuts provide the space for the Tories once again promise to cut corporation tax to 17 per cent by 2020. Why tax the rich when you can soak the poor?

Meritocratic con

It’s no secret Theresa May wants to take us back to the 1950s and the 11 plus exams which denied 80 per cent of the population access to university education. This is diplomatically referred to as, “more good school places, ending the ban on selective schools and asking universities and independent schools to help run state schools” – well-worn allusions whose real meaning will not be lost on middle class Tory voters. Throw in a promise to fund 100 new ‘free’ [publicly funded and privately run] schools and the whole scheme is branded the ‘Great Meritocracy’.

The concept of Meritocracy is simply a sop to the guilty middle classes who use it to convince themselves that their privileges are derived from individual talent rather than the fact that inherited wealth and social status buys access to an elite education and career prospects. In as much as this meritocracy is open to working class families, it is only to encourage individuals to ‘rise out of your class, not with it’.

But even the vaunted meritocracy can’t solve the problem of expensively-educated middle class graduates living with their parents into their late 20s and 30s. The scale of the housing crisis has forced May to acknowledge the need for a limited return to council house building. The sting in the tail? Automatic right to buy for tenants after 10-15 years; a repeat of the Tory trick of using taxes to build houses it sells at a subsidised rate to bribe voters.

As to the NHS it will be restricted to the crippling pledge to increase NHS spending by a meagre £8bn over the next five years. Where did this figure come from? In 2015 NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens was “strong-armed” into putting it forward after he produced an official report that stated the health service needed at least £16 billion extra by 2020 to preserve existing provisions.

In fact had Britain under both Gordon Brown and David Cameron stayed at the average spending level as a percentage of GDP of the original fifteen EU member states, something it briefly achieved in the early Blair years, the NHS would now be getting £43bn more.

When you look at what the Tories really want to  do in five years with their hoped-for 100 plus majority, it is clear that completing the Thatcher revolution and disrupting the welfare state beyond repair (without extremely radical measures) and to break the last stronghold of trade unionism in the public services.    

Thanks to getting a blank cheque for Brexit, thanks to playing on the racist and chauvinist hatred of foreign workers and refugees, thanks to having an 80 percent Tory tabloid press owned by five billionaires, with the most cynical and deceitful manifesto in living memory Theresa May thinks she can get away with it. We must do all in our power to stop her.

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