“This cost of living crisis is borne out of political decisions that span decades and still continue to this day.”
By Ian Lavery MP
Over the last few weeks, the cost of living crisis has begun to feel more and more real. Gas prices at the pumps have risen dramatically and letters coming through the doors have hammered home the reality of just how significant the rises in energy prices we face really are.
The warning signs for this crisis have been there for months now with organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation urging the government to take action well before the new year. Despite this, the government have once again failed to be proactive as they were countless times throughout the pandemic. As April approaches and the energy price cap is set to be lifted families are helplessly looking around for support and advice on how they will manage to pay the bills.
Instead of helping, the government are now once again trying to rewrite history by blaming the crisis and rising fuel prices on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While the events in Ukraine have certainly not helped the situation, the cost of living was set to rise rapidly months before it started, with heating, water, tax, national insurance and much more facing hefty rises before Putin ordered his troops across the border.
It is therefore irresponsible of the government to suggest that we can and should endure the rising prices of everyday essentials in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. This is simply a false dichotomy and is rather tastelessly being used as an excuse by the government for their inaction. Why not show support and solidarity with Ukraine while also having a government that intervenes when necessary to protect its most vulnerable citizens from extreme rises in their living costs?
Even compared to other European countries the UK’s reaction looks weak. While France have limited the rise in energy bills to just 4%, the UK has allowed them to go up by as much as 54%, a move which will inevitably worsen the rapidly rising levels of child poverty in constituencies like mine all across the country.
The fact is that this cost of living crisis is borne out of political decisions that span decades and still continue to this day. The hollowing out of the state during the 80’s which resulted in rapid privatisation has left us nakedly exposed to changes in the geopolitical landscape and the cruel decade of austerity that followed has inevitably resulted in the ordinary working man and woman paying the price when things go wrong.
The Conservative’s continue to flounder and engage in far more infighting than the media may have you believe. Following their election victory in 2019 they have utterly failed to grasp their moment appearing completely out of ideas as to what to actually do with their huge majority. Boris Johnson has shown his stripes as a populist leader blessed with admittedly impressive campaigning skills, yet absolutely no idea why he wants to be in power or what to do with it beyond his own naked ambition.
Labour therefore still has a unique opportunity to put together a vision of Britain that can take back control of its national economy and energy security and run them in the interests of the many rather than the few.
To win back the ‘Red Wall’ this would undoubtably be a popular message. The Leave campaign’s message in the EU referendum of ‘taking back control’ proved incredibly salient in these areas. The phrase is now often synonymously used with taking control of our borders but is just as relevant when applying it to taking back control of our national infrastructure which has been offloaded by successive governments to rich individuals at the expense of the national interest.
It is no exaggeration to say that the pandemic, as well as the illegal Russian invasion and its geopolitical consequences, have thrown us into a new world, markedly distinct from the one dominated by the neoliberal norms and rampant globalisation of the past 4 decades. This new world has new dangers and obstacles but also new opportunities to rebuild so much of what was lost in the communities that the old world tragically left behind.
Unfortunately, so far neither party looks to be rising to the occasion. The Conservatives are too deeply embroiled in scandal and corruption to put forward any effective program as we have seen with the pathetic levelling up campaign. Labour too seems to be unwilling to make the bold moves that are necessary for us taking back control, perhaps most notably their position on nationalisation which is simply the only reliable long term way to avoid any more energy crises like we are facing today.
Yet make no mistake, this new world is on the horizon whether our political elites like it or not, and whichever party makes its move first will be the ones to steer the ship on their own course for our countries foreseeable future.