Holding the Post-Brexit Tories to Account
10 Nov 2016The Tories’ toxic political agenda has wrought havoc on our economy. A united Labour can defeat it, writes Diane Abbott MP
The recent Conservative Party Conference and the policy developments that are flowing from it have clearly showed they are still the Nasty Party despite Theresa May’s rhetoric.
As my shadow cabinet colleague Jonathan Ashworth MP put it in his conference speech: “Theresa May was heavy on rhetoric about being on the side of ‘fairness’ and ‘opportunity.’ “But all we got was more of the same failed Tory approach which has seen the slowest economic recovery since 1920, tax breaks for the top while VAT goes up for the rest, tuition fees trebled, 19,000 police axed and an NHS in crisis with patients waiting longer and hospitals in financial meltdown.
”People thinking that the ideologically driven cuts and austerity policies of the Cameron-Osborne years are over will get a shock from announcements that thousands of poorer pensioners will be hit by a new “bedroom tax” and plans to open the door to the privatisation of child protection services will continue.
Meanwhile, the Tories have chosen to make the Brexit vote all about immigration. In doing so they are trying to outdo Ukip in blaming all the country’s ills on migrants. This has the added benefit for them of distracting from their own policy failures.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that companies could be made to publish lists of overseas workers, named and shamed for employing people, with the Daily Mirror reporting officials saying that the plan was intended to “prevent migrants taking jobs [that] British people can do.”Liam Fox said that providing any guarantees for existing EU workers would be to “hand over one of our main cards” in Brexit negotiations.
And when it came to the NHS, Jeremy Hunt told the Tory party conference that he was aiming for “self-sufficiency” in UK-trained doctors before the end of the next parliament. Hunt’s plan is to increase the number of UK-trained doctors by 1,500 per year. There are 100,000 overseas doctors in the UK, according to the General Medical Council. Simply replacing these would take 66 years.
It was the worst example possible of putting a politically toxic agenda ahead of the needs of our economy and public services. It showed the Tories care more about scapegoating foreigners than a well-staffed, properly funded National Health Service.
But it’s also the case that with strong opposition this government can be defeated. By last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, May was claiming that Rudd’s remarks on overseas workers had not represented a policy. Yet just days before (on October 5) Rudd told the BBC: “It’s one of the tools we’re going to use as a review to see if we can use it as a way of nudging people to do better behaviour.”
When announced, these policies immediately faced a massive backlash, including from business and community leaders. Alongside this, they also received a firm response from my predecessor as shadow home secretary Andy Burnham MP who said the idea “runs counter to everything this country has ever stood for” and warned: “If the government proceeds with legislation in this area, it will face the mother of all battles.”
In response to this, by October 9, Education Secretary Justine Greening told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “[It] is really about collecting the right evidence we will need if we’re going to respond to skills shortages of employers [...] This is not data that will be published,” and “there will be absolutely no naming and shaming.”
Like the defeats, U-turns and retreats forced on the government under the first year of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party — most notably on proposed cuts to tax credits and later to Personal Independence Payments — this was another example of what a strong and united opposition can achieve, especially when united with public opinion.
Labour will now put the Tories on the back foot across the board — from fighting to defend our NHS and education system, to challenging their continuing curtailment of civil liberties and scapegoating of vulnerable communities.
We are strongly opposing the government’s failing, ideologically driven austerity policies and the “dog-whistle” politics often being used to distract from, or justify, these policies.
As Corbyn put it in his response to May’s Conservative conference speech: “Drawing up lists of foreign workers won’t stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain. “Shutting the door to international students won’t pay young people’s tuition fee debts, and ditching doctors from abroad won’t cut NHS waiting lists.”
And Labour is articulating an economic alternative to the Tories — based on investing in our future — which can improve living standards and win on the doorstep.
May’s leadership of the Tories represents a shift to the right not the centre ground.
In contrast to the Tories, Labour is the party of our public services, of people’s rights and of protecting living standards. The Tory plans outlined since May has become Prime Minister will continue to damage all three and we will vigorously oppose them all the way.
*From the Morning Star