“The Conservatives corrosive drift to Trumpism is poisoning British politics – Labour needs to refute this cynicism but also offer a counter-politics that is a vision of transformation for Britain, bringing in the ideas of the whole left.”Beth Winter MP
By Beth Winter MP
The Conservative Party Conference this week took place under their woefully inaccurate conference slogan – Long Term Decisions for a Brighter Future.
This was exemplified by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who justified his deference to short-term corporate fossil fuel interests when he watered down net zero commitments as a ‘long-term decision’ rather than a ‘short-term easy way out’. Yet, confusingly, in his conference speech he said he was cancelling the rest of the ‘long-running saga’ of HS2 in order to deliver other projects ‘with quicker results’.
Throughout the conference, the series of Cabinet speeches and interviews demonstrated that after a decade of Tory spending cuts resulting in crumbling public services, they had no long-term approach or focus on the major infrastructure and workforce demands in their departmental briefs.
The week was dominated by the Prime Minister’s apparent indecision on the Birmingham to Manchester high speed rail link – the long-standing commitment he ultimately abandoned in a lacklustre conference speech – so the most apparent long-term planning on show was among Tory members planning for life after Rishi Sunak.
The series of right-wing Cabinet soundbites drifted dangerously towards a culture of online right-wing conspiracy theorism of the type encouraged by Trump and the Republican right in the US. Although this was indulged by the leadership, it looks increasingly like Sunak is not master of events.
This approach was boosted by the much-publicised Great British Growth Rally addressed by failed PM Liz Truss, with her Trump-inspired slogan of ‘Make Britain Grow Again’, with Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage present.
In the conference hall, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt had nothing to say on addressing thirteen years of falling public sector pay and the resulting workforce crisis. Instead, he turned his fire on social security claimants who will face a new initiative to force them into work.
But it was his colleagues who plunged deeper into the culture war as they tried desperately to avoid the real issues of the need for public ownership, direct public investment and higher public sector pay.
The Home Secretary condemned ‘the privileged woke minority’ that exists in her head and led a rabble-rousing full-Trumpian attack on human rights laws, on mass-migration, and on trade unions.
The Transport Secretary was unable to talk about the UK’s largest infrastructure project, HS2 or where else its funding might go, so avoided bearing the news that London is getting investment to bring HS2 to Euston whilst the Crewe and Manchester leg is scrapped. So he indulged the conspiracy fantasy of ’15-minute towns’, where councils dictate when people can go shopping.
The Health Secretary, speaking on the day radiographers joined consultants and junior doctors on strike, had nothing to say on NHS pay, but did announce a consultation that could ban transgender people from single-sex wards.
The Energy Secretary used her speech to revive Sunak’s discredited lie that Labour supports a meat tax. The Environment Secretary could have discussed investment in our failing privatised water service, but instead attacked non-existent bendy banana regulations.
Speech after speech showed that there are no long-term offers to the country from the Conservative Party.
The Prime Minister’s only offer to Wales – to electrify the North Wales train line with funds saved from the scrapping of HS2 – was another example of a Westminster decision impacting Wales, without consulting Welsh Government on its priorities. And until trains are running on an electrified line, that promise is no more credible than the long-dropped promise to electrify the Cardiff to Swansea line.
The Conservatives corrosive drift to Trumpism is poisoning British politics.
They have thrown their lot in with a right-wing populism that champions regressive social values as ‘common-sense’ whilst appending their traditional attack on Labour ‘tax and spend’ and talk of ‘costs to households’, to what they call woke policies and the climate change agenda.
Labour needs to refute this cynicism but also offer a counter-politics that is a vision of transformation for Britain, bringing in the ideas of the whole left, and presenting a future that will mobilise people across all communities to defeat the Tories.
- Beth Winter is the MP for Cynon Valley and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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