May’s ‘new’ Cabinet of useless old ideas

13 Jan 2018
As Parliament returned for the new year, and in the same week as  new figures revealed a relentlessly bleak picture for patients in the year the NHS will celebrate its 70th birthday, Theresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle was nothing more than a PR distraction that went wrong.

The reality is that it will take more than renaming departments make up for years of Tory failure. As my colleague Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, put it: “By simply rearranging the deckchairs in her reshuffle, May has shown that her floundering government is out of fresh ideas.”

While Theresa May has attempted to yet again shore up her weak and wobbly government, the impact of the Tories’ failed, ideologically driven austerity policies are hitting home more than ever, not least in terms of the most serious NHS crisis yet.

Astonishingly, Tory MP Philip Dunne dismissed reports of a lack of beds in the NHS by saying: “Most hospitals have seats” for those left waiting. The reality, however, is that reports and accounts from health professionals in recent weeks have illustrated how eight years of severe cuts has left the health service woefully underfunded, understaffed and unprepared for the rise in demand this winter.

This Tory failure is not restricted to our NHS but stretches across our vital public services.

To give two further examples relevant to my brief as shadow Home Secretary — the police force and fire and rescue service — when it comes to the consequences of their cuts, the Tories have also buried their heads in the sand.

The government continually claims to be protecting police budgets but in fact there is a long list of police and crime commissioners and chief constables who have expressed their deep concerns over the impact of continued cuts to their budgets and police numbers.

Northumbria, for example, is “getting very, very close to not being able to deliver a professional service.” Avon and Somerset is “at a tipping point.”

In total, well over 20,000 police officers have been axed under this government and the coalition before it. Around 17,000 of those represent cuts to front-line staff, many of them officers working day to day in their communities.

When it comes to our fire and rescue service, while the Tories recently boasted of fire services having an “enormous” cash pile, in fact fire authorities have just three weeks of extra operating costs in their back pocket in case something goes wrong. And this comes in a situation where the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says that there are 11,000 fewer firefighters nationwide as their numbers have been cut by 20 per cent since 2010.

Alongside starving public services of vital resources, the government’s chaotic approach to Brexit negotiations threatens jobs — millions of people are experiencing daily a deepening cost-of-living crisis, as illustrated by increasing levels of poverty and inequality.

As shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said: “Too many people are struggling to get by while May focuses on holding her unstable coalition of chaos together.”

In contrast, Labour is mapping out not only how we would protect public services but how we would rebuild and invest in our economy with sustainable growth, driven by national and regional investment banks to generate good jobs and prosperity in every region and nation.

Labour has precisely the right programme to transform Britain, because the country needs a radical change of direction to tackle both our long-term problems and the challenges ahead, not least those posed by Brexit, which are being exacerbated by the Tories’ reckless approach  to the negotiations with the EU.

The government may be complacent, as May’s comments on the NHS crisishave so clearly illustrated, but there is no room for complacency for those seeking a change of direction.

This weak and struggling government is causing untold damage — and we need to replace it as soon as is possible. It’s time for a new approach and a new Britain — for the many, not the few. The stakes could not be higher.

* Originally published in the 'Morning Star.'

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