The Conservative Party Conference is a dispiriting experience for socialists. Chancellor Hunt’s keynote speech yesterday was devoid of any fresh economic policy announcements. The national living wage (aka the minimum wage) is going to rise to a figure around £11.00 an hour, but not because of Hunt. The government usually accepts the findings of the independent Low Pay Commission, and this is the kind of figure they are expected to announce if the minimum wage is to keep pace with the increase in median hourly pay.
The attack on people on benefits is straight out of the Tory playbook of divide and rule. Hunt lied about there being a shortage of workers at a time when a hundred thousand a year leave the workforce for a life on benefits. In fact, companies are advertising fewer vacancies and even laying people off. The number of job vacancies has fallen for fifteen consecutive months. People are losing their jobs or being forced onto the sick by the record waiting lists for NHS treatment. Everyone deemed incapable of work has been certified by the DWP; but Hunt still wants to increase benefit sanctions and, in a moment of total hypocrisy, he argued that changes to the economy meant that many people housebound by disability were now capable of working from home. This from a government that has been trying to reduce home working and get people back in the office full-time!
And if you are disabled do not try for a job with the civil service. Hunt has taken the arbitrary decision that we need fewer civil servants, based on pre-Covid employment levels. Pre-Covid was also pre-Brexit and now we are no longer in the EU, government departments have heavier workloads as a result and need more staff.
But, if you thought the Tory Conference was bad, the Labour response has been worse. Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liz Kendall, didn’t explicitly condemn the sanctions proposals yesterday morning. She echoed the Tory ‘workers not shirkers’ narrative when she said that Labour “believes in responsibility: that those who can work, should work and take jobs when they are offered.”
Hunt’s speech was competing for space with speculation about the imminent cancellation of HS2. The Tory spin is that costs are out of control and the money would be better spent on local improvements to rail and bus services in the north, which is a far cry from the major infrastructure programmes that are required to fulfil the government’s pledge to deliver a comprehensive east to west Northern Powerhouse rail scheme. Labour has refused to commit to continuing with HS2 or to further investment in the north. Instead, Shadow Transport Minister, Louise Haigh, criticised Tory chaos and indecision. Would Labour indecision be any less chaotic?
Perhaps the latest Labour Party video, launched to coincide with the Tory party conference, offers more hope? Yes it does, if hope is an acceptable substitute for expectation. Titled ‘This is What A Labour Government Would Do Differently,’ it suggests Labour would solve all our ills by delivering economic growth — but the only concrete proposals are to train more NHS staff and put 13,000 more police on the streets.
The party that has refused to cancel Tory fossil fuel developments goes on to promise to make the UK a world leader in green energy, a ‘clean energy superpower’ no less. Instead of transforming the economy, it is banking on the economy to deliver growth at a time when economists are forecasting that Britain is approaching a fresh recession. Perhaps that explains those extra 13,000 police on our streets. Will they be enough to contain the explosion of anger when Labour dashes all our hopes and shows itself to be as bad as the Tories?