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.
Kwasi Kwarteng tells the BBC that his tax cuts “favour people right across the income scale.”
Here’s how that income scale looked after his announcement. pic.twitter.com/nQkjJXIkPa
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) September 25, 2022
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.