Poverty of Hope in Laboratory Britain

Just when you thought it was all over a new surge of sycophancy emerges. Today in The Spectator Charles Moore, Thatcher’s biographer asks: “Should Queen Elizabeth II be made a saint?” But as the fever-dream of monarchism subsides the harsh reality of broken Britain emerges into the autumn light.

On Friday the new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng released a mini-budget that revealed the true nature of this latest government-you-didn’t elect led by the Prime Minister nobody-voted-for. In what was seen as an attack on the poorest and a budget for the rich, Kwarteng announced that the top rate of income tax – the 45% rate for earnings over £150,000 – is being abolished altogether.

The Treasury itself acknowledged after the budget that around 660,000 of the highest earners taking home more than £150,000 a year will benefit from the scrapping of the 45p rate, getting back on average £10,000 a year. Alongside this the Chancellor threatened to cut benefits for 120,000 people on a Universal Credit. But we already know that 40% of people on Universal Credit are actually in work, 56% of people in poverty are in a working family, 7 in 10 children in poverty are in a family where at least one parent works.

Campaigners and charities have described the mini-budget measures as a ‘hammer blow’ to the poor.

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children, said: “The prime minister said she would deliver on the cost-of-living crisis. Instead, the UK government has delivered tax cuts to help the richest and a hammer-blow to low-income families. The chancellor has prioritised bankers’ bonuses over helping vulnerable children through the cost-of-living crisis, whose hard-working parents face impossible choices. Today’s announcements overwhelmingly benefit the country’s wealthiest households, meanwhile almost four million children risk going cold and hungry this winter.”

The Resolution Foundation calculated that almost half (45%) of gains from personal tax cuts from the announcements will go to the richest 5% alone, who’ll be £8,560 better off. In contrast, just 12% will go to poorest half of households, who’ll be average £230 better off next year.

The ‘mini-budget’ was met with a muted response from even the Tory backbenchers, themselves aware that this would be politically dire. Liz Truss might have acted tough saying ‘she was happy to make unpopular decisions’ but her MPs are less so.


Laboratory Britain

The Conservative journalist Tim Montgomery announced that the plans were “A massive moment for @iealondon. They’ve been advocating these policies for years. They incubated Truss and Kwarteng during their early years as MPs. Britain is now their laboratory.”

To be clear the IEA is the Institute for Economic Affairs, a far-right free-market think-tank shrouded in dark money.

You’re living in their laboratory now.

George Monbiot tells us about Ruth Porter, Liz Truss’s senior special adviser who was communications director at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA):

“We know from a combination of leaks and US filings that it has a history of taking money from tobacco companies and since 1967 from the oil company BP, and has also received large disbursements from foundations funded by US billionaires, some of which have been among the major sponsors of climate science denial. When she worked at the IEA, Porter called for reducing housing benefit and child benefit, charging patients to use the NHS, cutting overseas aid and scrapping green funds.”

“She then became head of economic and social policy at Policy Exchange, which was also listed by Transparify as “highly opaque”. Policy Exchange is the group that (after Porter left) called for a new law against Extinction Rebellion, which became, in former home secretary Priti Patel’s hands, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. We later discovered it had received $30,000 from the US oil company Exxon.”

As the pound fell off a cliff and the reality of the ‘new’ Truss government sets in, we also saw the leaked plans for Gordon Brown’s long-awaited ‘constitutional review’.

The review reportedly includes powers for local people to promote bills in parliament and a constitutional guarantee of social and economic rights, though it remains studiously opaque what that actually means. The plans also include Labour considering replacing the House of Lords with an upper house of nations and regions – an idea that may sound familiar to you. Brown also suggests local and devolved administrations would be given a minimum of three years’ funding to give them certainty for longer-term planning – something the Scottish Government and Cosla have both advocated.

This is tame and stale stuff.

As the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald, said: “It would give Scotland zero protection from Brexit, Westminster austerity cuts, power grabs and repeated Tory governments we don’t vote for. Worse still, the review is so weak and watered-down, that it actually breaks the promises that Mr Brown previously made and failed to deliver in 2014, when he pledged Scotland would have the maximum possible devolution and closest thing to federalism within two years.”

Paul Leinster commented on the review: “Is this it? Labour’s grand plan to “save the union” amounts to devolution of stamp duty, which the Scottish Parliament already has, “constitutional rights” which aren’t legislatively possible in the UK, & promising to abolish the Lords, again.”

This is tinkering around the edges from an ex-politician who can’t face the prospect of real democracy. He is trying to revive a corpse and reportedly several frontbenchers in Labour aren’t impressed. But if the whole thing has an odd air about it, laboured, leaked and the sole obsession of one man who cuts a forelorn figure, it also feels out of kilter with the world we’re in.

Now the opportunities for collective working, for crowdsourcing and harvesting the ideas and vision of the many are so obvious, this approach of one single man working away for years to magic-up ‘solutions’ just seems so old-fashioned. But it’s striking too how unambitious theses plans are too.

In the face of Tory radicalism, bold and dangerous ideological radicalism, Labour seem inert. In the face of a militant far-right government and ongoing constitutional crisis, Labour’s response is meek and unimaginative. Ironically the Conservatives are the wreckers and the radical smashing everything up, and Labour are the ones desperately trying to make sure nothing really changes.

We’ve reached a breaking point. As Neil Mackay writes at the Herald: “Gordon Brown is a good, decent man – but his plan to save the union is doomed. Not only is it too little too late, but Tory extremism has destroyed the UK economy. Economic arguments against independence no longer stand. Scotland is safer outside the union.”

The Union’s strongest argument was always economic security as opposed to the Project Fear picture of Scotland as an isolated basket case. Now the best they can do is demand the Scottish Government mirrors the reckless fiscal abandonment of naked greed. We’re a long way from ‘broad shoulder’s and ‘pooling and sharing’.

Last week hordes of commentators were united in gleeful certainty that the events of the Queen’s funeral was going to be the death knell of the independence movement. Britain was being re-born, re-united and a new dawn was rising (etc) we were told. But this week we saw new polling led by Professor John Curtice, the 39th annual British Social Attitudes Survey, showed growing divisions across Britain and Northern Ireland over constitutional issues exacerbated by Brexit.

The study, carried out by The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), examined shifting attitudes in Scotland to the Union over the years, with support for independence rising from 23 per cent in 2012.

The authors of the report pointed to the 2014 indyref and Brexit as factors behind the increase in support for independence in the past decade with some 65 % of Scots who voted to remain in the EU now supporting independence, up from 44% in 2016. They said: “Since 2014 there has been a marked increase in the level of support for independence, and especially so since the EU referendum of 2016, after which leaving the UK became more popular than devolution for the first time.

These findings are not surprising, but they do present strategic challenges for the anti-European left and the proponents of Sterlingingisation (as of course does the nosedive the pound took against the dollar).

The glib hubris of last week’s regal excess was not just an exercise in self-delusion on a massive scale. As Charlotte Higgins has written: “… it feels that the more wretched, bitter and badly governed the country becomes, the more splendid and gilded the royal ceremonies, and the more outrageous the national self-delusion. Nevertheless, the past 11 days’ rituals, with their small tweaks and innovations, cannot help but point to where the national anxieties lie. That the King should dash from Scotland to Northern Ireland and Wales between his mother’s death and funeral tells you all you need to know about the fragility of the union; that the Commonwealth was so lavishly invoked during the funeral rites was a reminder that the angry ghosts of empire are massing outside the palace and cathedral doors.”

Last week wasn’t just a long slow ceremonial funeral for Elizabeth II, it was the long slow ceremonial funeral for Britain itself.


Comments (18)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    From what I saw in the Guardian about Bodger Broon’s ‘plans’ is that there is nothing about changing the electoral system for Westminster and, without that, even if Labour wins the next election and makes some or all of the changes proposed, then when they lose power, as they surely will, an incoming Tory majority government will simply repeal the changes. This is what they did to the few ‘progressive; things which the Blair/Brown governments introduced.

    The Starmer Labour Party which is Blair/Brown redux, but waving the union Jack has no intention of changing the power relations.

    1. Welsh_Siôn says:

      Indeed, take a look at today’s Observer – the Guardian’s sister paper; neither of whom are cheerleaders for Welsh and Scottish independence.


      Keir Starmer defies call for changes to first past the post voting system

      The Labour leader said electoral reform was not a priority and refused to make it one of the party’s election manifesto pledges


      Keir Starmer has ruled out including any support for a change in the voting system in Labour’s election manifesto, as senior figures from across the party joined calls to back proportional representation (PR).

      Labour’s annual conference, under way in Liverpool, is expected to back a motion calling for the party to drop its historical support for the first past the post system amid concerns that it has locked Labour out of power.

      Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, and John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor and ally of Jeremy Corbyn, are among those joining a growing campaign to replace it.

      However, the Labour leader said in an interview with the Observer there would be no deal – before or after the election – that would see him back a change. Asked if Labour’s manifesto would include pledges on electoral reform, he said: “No, it’s not a priority for me.”


      1. Welsh_Siôn says:

        And in other news and polls:

        Westminster Voting Intention

        Conservative – 23% (-3)
        Labour – 46% (+5)
        Liberal Democrats – 5% (-2)
        Plaid Cymru – 15% (-1)
        Reform UK – 5% (+1)
        Green Party – 3% (-1)
        Other – 3% (+1)

        Senedd Constituency Voting Intention

        Conservative – 20% (- 4)
        Labour – 40% (+ 3)
        Liberal Democrats – 6%
        Plaid Cymru – 22% (+ 1)
        Reform UK – 5%
        Green Party – 3% (-2)
        Other – 4%

        YouGov polled a representative sample of 1,014 Welsh voters, aged 16+, between September 20-22 for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University.



        The first poll of Wales since Liz Truss became Prime Minister puts the Conservatives “close to a 1997-style electoral wipe-out” according to an expert.

        ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s latest opinion poll reveals that the majority of people in Wales don’t trust Liz Truss’ government to make the right decisions for the country.

        The Barn Cymru poll, conducted by YouGov for ITV Cymru Wales and Cardiff University, shows 66% of people lack faith in the new PM’s government.

        Although 12% of those surveyed thought Truss – who won the Conservative Leadership contest on September 6 – would make a good prime minister, nearly half of the respondents thought she’d be a poor or terrible PM.



  2. CathyW says:

    Good stuff as ever, Mike, and I support your overall analysis. However, in the interest of accuracy perhaps should mention that, as I understand it, the Social Attitudes Survey was based on polling interviews undertaken well before the recent royal death and its attendant shenanigans (late last year, I think?). I do not buy the desperate argument that all that sycophantic guff will save the Union, but we can’t yet say that a poll has shown what its effect, if any, has been on the constitutional question. Happy to be corrected!

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Well, I anticipated the make-Queen-an-Anglican-saint ploy. When Shakespeare’s King John (a play where the real villain is hereditary monarchy) crowns himself again, advisor Lord Salisbury says:
    “Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
    To guard a title that was rich before,
    To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
    To throw a perfume on the violet,
    To smooth the ice, or add another hue
    Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
    To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
    Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”
    http://shakespeare.mit.edu/john/full.html (Act 4 scene 2)
    from which we get the misquote about gilding the lizzy. But since Elizabeth II was a war criminal, scrutiny of whose record can only result in uncovering despotic vice rather than heroic virtue, you’re going to need imperial quantities of gilt, paint and perfume. And the ice is melting. Perhaps they’ll name the magical eighth colour of the rainbow after her.

    I wonder what the latin for ‘wasteful and ridiculous excess at public expense’ is? It would be one of the milder candidates for House of Windsor motto, or as the unofficial slogan for ‘Brand Britain’.

    Sure, the current Conservative leadership’s policy programme is not only unpopular but depopulatory, an announcement that they are Enemies of the Living World (as well as the People). A properly constitutionally-encoded biocracy would make their whole fracking platform illegal, just saying. And yes, it isn’t democracy but tyranny, having usurped the previous foul-but-in-some-way-elected Conservative government. Therefore, the arguments of the monarchomachs apply with full force.

    1. 220925 says:

      Does the Anglican Church make saints? I know it recognises the sanctity of the saints the Church made before the Reformation, but I don’t think it’s ever sanctified anyone since.

  4. 220925 says:

    Scotland is one of the most centralised and unequal nations in Europe. Power is hoarded at the centre in Holyrood and St Andrew’s House, creating a huge barrier to any government wanting to deliver radical social and economic change. The strains inside the nation are obvious. A government elected by a minority of voters imposes its will across the whole of the country. Our parliament has only a thin claim to represent the diversity of opinion across the nation. But nationalists have taken little interest in how Scotland will be governed if and when that government becomes independent of the UK.

    The current Westminster system of Scottish government enables a coalition of party interests, elected on a minority of the vote, to impose its will across the whole of the country. At the same time, it sustains a centralised state that has left Scotland with only the most basic machinery of local government or democratic structures for decision-making.

    The Westminster system of Scottish government also exacerbates tensions within society by exaggerating the polarisation of politics across the country. It drives the adversarial mentality that has left relationships between us riven.

    These links between system reform and the future of Scotland and its governance are rarely drawn. Nationalists demand independent governance for Scotland but largely duck the democratic deficit represented by the absence of any local democracy across the country.

    This issues of independence and democracy are intertwined and must be tackled together rather than serially, with the issue of democracy being deferred. Independent governance that’s no more democratic than what we have at present is not worth having. In particular, independence must become more than just having our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh; it must become more about replacing the Westminster system in Scotland with a more pluralist and decentralised politics that is already commonplace in other countries, where governance operates much more as a kind of confederation of local authorities and less as the unitary nation to which nationalists aspire.

    1. Wul says:

      You seem to have lost your cool detachment 90215. Has something got you triggered? Nice to see you speak with some actual passion for a change.

      You say; “Nationalists demand independent governance for Scotland but largely duck the democratic deficit represented by the absence of any local democracy across the country.” You are wrong.

      I don’t know where you have been hiding, or what your sources are, but one of Scotland’s most active and published “nationalists”, Lesley Riddoch has been banging on about the lack of democracy in Scotland for years. It is a hot topic amongst many “Yes” activists.

      If you mean that the SNP “duck the democratic deficit” created by our abnormally centralised government then yeah (duh!), what the hell else do you expect from a party in power?
      If you want to dismantle the SNP’s grip on the country then vote for Scotland’s independence and make the SNP irrelevant. You can then campaign for decentralised, powerful local democracy ( I’ll join you) and have an actual snowball’s chance of achieving it. Real, local democracy has zero chance of being won within the UK. If you want change, you have to have some power and opportunity to make change. Why do you cling to the UK’s status quo so strongly? What are you afraid of?

      1. 220927 says:

        I mean that the matter of democracy can’t be deferred until after Scottish government gains its independence of the UK. The process of independence needs to be itself a process of democratisation, by which the Westminster system of government that prevails in Edinburgh is disempowered and our public decision-making localised more closely to the ‘real’ communities that make up the ‘imagined’ nation; otherwise that democratisation will never happen and the Westminster system will persist as it has done in so many of the other
        countries around the world whose government has become independent of the UK. Independence, to be real, has to be a process of decolonisation rather than a matter of having our own wee Westminster in Edinburgh.

        We have a unique opportunity here. The current Scottish government wants us to support its nationalist mission to make Scottish government as such independent of the UK. We have to opportunity to make it a condition of that support that Scottish government dissolves the Westminster system by which it’s constituted and reforms itself along more democratic lines. That would be radical independence.

        The Scottish government is currently engaged in nation-building in preparation for its becoming independent of the UK. It’s spending huge resources in cementing into place the organisational infrastructure through which our public decision-making will be conducted in a future, ‘independent’ Scotland. That infrastructure looks awfully like what we have at present, with the prospect that our public decision-making will be just as centralised and ‘distant’ – just as undemocratic – as it is under the existing regime.

        The independence that’s currently on the table isn’t good enough; it leaves the Westminster system intact and entrenched in very infrastructure of our public decision-making. We should be demanding more. The forthcoming referendum uniquely enhances our bargaining power vis-a-vis the.Scottish government; our relative capacity to secure an independence with terms that best suit our democratic objectives may never be so great again, and is certainty greater now than it will be once the Scottish government has achieved its objective of making Scottish government as such independent of the UK.

        1. Wul says:

          I with you on what you say about us needing, demanding a better democracy. How can voters make demands of the SNP? What’s the mechanism for saying “I’ll give you my vote if you promise greater democratisation of power”?

          You are right, we should be making this demand now, independence referendum or not, but how do we do that? No party in Scotland is offering a restructuring of the local decision-making process. Should we protest? Riot? Fill in petitions?

          1. 220927 says:

            All I – or any of us – can do is continue to withhold my vote and make it clear to those who canvas it just exactly what the price of it is.

            I’m much too old and decrepit now, but back in the day I made a career out of community development, working in voluntary association with my neighbours to mobilise our local social capital to occupy zones of public decision-making and problem-solving in our neighbourhood that had (for one reason or another) been vacated by the statutory agencies. I still believe that democracy needs to be grown from the grassroots up rather than legislated from the top down.

  5. Gavinochiltree says:

    Just as the Tories move right, so does Labour.
    I see no succour for Scotland with a Labour “victory”. Starmer is no less an autocratic Westminster sovereignista, than May or Johnson or Truss.
    The SNP “have no mandate” with the most astonishing repeat electoral victories, and majorities at Holyrood.
    Let us suppose Labour does win the next general election.
    What will their mandate look like to rule, either the UK or Scotland, given their attitude to a “Scottish mandate”?
    Will they need—-
    1.- A majority of seats (FPTP remember)?
    2.- A majority of seats in Scotland?
    3.-A majority of votes?
    4.- A majority of votes in Scotland?

    Does a majority of seats or votes in England give a mandate to rule Scotland?
    What will Labour say, if Scotland refutes their authority over us—-without any kind of Scottish majority?

    What’s eating Gordo Broon?
    I thought perhaps a peerage. Maybe he just cannot bow out. Total regret over his submission to Blair?
    The Big Job he wanted (World Bank etc) never materialised, and won’t now.
    No one pays him any regard, especially in Scotland.
    He is in danger of becoming a caricature of himself, and should retire.

  6. Iain Lennox says:

    …. And she’s STILL not Elizabeth II however much that garbage is peddled.
    Mike….. I’m surprised at you

    1. 220926 says:

      Mike’s correct in his usage. This was confirmed by the ruling in In MacCormick v Lord Advocate in 1953, which established that the use of the numeral “II” was a correct use of the royal prerogative and hence valid in Scots law.

      And the correctness of this usage isn’t just a matter of Scots law. The principle, that a monarch can use whatever name and regnal number s/he chooses, is more or less universal. John XXIII styled himself such even though he was not, in fact, the 23rd pope named ‘John’. Alphonso styled himself ‘Alphonso XII even though the previous 11 had been kings of Castile and not of Spain. The first king of Italy dubbed himself ‘Victor Emmanuel II’.

      The convention is that, where regnal numbers become disordered due to separation or amalgamation of states, the higher number should be used. Thus, when Iceland became a separate monarchy in 1918, King Christian X of Denmark became Christian X of Iceland, not Christian I. When the Statute of Westminster converted the Dominions into new sovereign states, explicitly applied the ‘higher number’ convention; thus Edward VIII, not Edward I, became New Zealand’s new head of state. The first head of state of all the sovereign members of the Commonwealth that retained the monarchy on independence was Elizabeth II, not Elizabeth I.

      In terms of the British constitution, the UK parliament, which is the author of that constitution as a perpetually unfinished ‘work-in-progress’, ruled that regnal numbers would be tallied for English monarchs from 1066 and for Scottish monarchs from 1306 and that the higher number should be applied by an incoming incumbent of the unified monarchy. Thus, any future UK monarch adopting, for example, the name ‘James’, ‘Robert’, or ‘David’ would be advised to follow the Scottish regnal numbers. Hence, a future UK King James would be expected to style himself ‘James VIII’, not ‘James III’. However, this remains only advice; what a British monarch calls her/himself remains her/his prerogative.

    2. You are right, I was being sardonic

  7. Paddy Farrington says:

    One interesting feature about the trend in attitudes towards independence reported by the Scottish Attitudes Survey is the big increase since 2014. From a low of 23% in 2012, the proportion supporting independence increased to 33% in 2014 and 39% in 2015, and in 2021 stood at 52%. Some in the Yes movement espouse a narrative according to which ‘nothing has happened’ since the 2014 independence referendum to increase support for independence. The data from this survey suggests that this view is seriously misplaced.

    1. JP58 says:

      It is increasing and solidifying and the 2014 referendum was a major catalyst for this as was having a parliament in Holyrood from 1999. The neoliberal policies of both Tory & I am afraid to say New Labour governments from 1979 have also contributed to this. There are also the demographic pressures with young people being less attached to UK state and more in favour of independence. Despite what No supporters say I don’t see them switching in large numbers as they get older as voters tend to do to Conservatives as this is as much about identity as economics for many.
      On the negative side people that voted No are probably more resistant to switching vote as to do so would require self reflection though Brexit has helped people rationalise switching sides. The SNP have been in power for a long period of time now with the inevitable policy failures and this can lead to general cynicism with their message. Finally the media in UK and Scotland is overwhelmingly anti independence and this is difficult to continually push back against.
      However the trend is all one way which is why Westminster would be wise to offer referendum now (when they could win and stall progress to Yes side in short to medium term) rather than wait when the No side support will be further reduced.

  8. Sutton Al says:

    Queen of Scots, never EIIR in this country!

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.