Before cutting services even further, Hunt should examine the state of the UK | Polly Toynbee


OWho is responsible? The silver back of 400 pounds called “the markets”. Sending for the zookeeper with a bucket of fruit seems to have calmed the beast for now, but £32billion isn’t enough. The gorilla will be back in a fortnight, which will mean more “tough decisions” promised by Jeremy Hunt, more taxes and more spending cuts. The worst is yet to come.

How did they do this to us? This party has led the country through 12 years of economic calamity. Long before Truss, his effortless austerity set back household income growth: between 2007 and 2018, the UK lagged the rest of Europe, with only Greece and Cyprus experiencing weaker economic growth . Earnings in France increased by 34% and in Germany by 27%, while the typical income in the UK down 2%.

Then it brought us a kamikaze Brexit, which hurt growth and trade, the trust in the city and Britain’s reputation as responsible internationalists and treaty keepers. It did so while hiring and firing increasingly unlikely executives and cabinets. Finally, the crash of Trussonomics laid bare the ideology that Brexit had camouflaged: it was never a question of “taking back control”, but of “losing all control”. The ultra-free merchants have now been devoured by their idolized free market gorilla.

You need this reminder of the disgraced Tory party to understand how Hunt may be emerging as the stabilizer, calling himself a “compassionate Tory”. He may have applied a tourniquet, but he plans to permanently cut off the blood supply as he warns that every department faces cuts – cuts deeper than those already caused by salary increases and the costs of inflation having already been removed from existing budgets. He is, after all, the health secretary who sat for six years in cabinet agreeing to NHS funding deals that increased at lowest rate ever, lower per capita spending for a growing and aging population, giving the green light to cut training places for doctors and nurses. He changed shape as chairman of the health select committee, demanding more for manpower training, social care and capital. Will he spare them now?

What a beautiful day for the annual report of public services to appear. Hunt should read his grim findings before brandishing his cleaver. The performance monitor, from the Institute for Government and CIPFA, studies services, from the NHS and schools to prisons, councils, courts and care: it paints a devastating picture of a collapsing public realm. Here is its summary 12 years of damage: “Public services will not have returned to pre-pandemic performance by the next election, which in most cases was already worse than when the Tories came to power in 2010.” Every day brings random instances of public ruin: over 60 swimming pools closed over the past three years, yet ministers continue to claim that “cutting the fat” is easy.

Preservatives can be divided into 57 varieties, but they all taste the same. Since the party’s takeover, first by the Thatcherites and then by the Ukippers, they have gone right. Their grouchy factions are the “narcissism of the small difference,” with each new ruler rejecting the previous one, adopting a new style but only pretending to start afresh. Look what they all voted for, including the so-called One-Nationers. Robert Halfon has called the Trussites “libertarian jihadists”, but look at the social injustice he and others like him have voted for in recent years.

Among EU countries, only Bulgaria is more unequal than us. Rishi Sunak, likely to run for prime minister again if the opportunity arises, has boasted to the Tunbridge Wells Tories of moving money from ‘deprived urban areas’ to wealthy towns like theirs. We don’t yet know if Hunt will protect the benefits, but they’ve been reduced in seven of the last 10 years, with a four-year freeze, an overall cap, a two-child limit, a room tax, and other beatings guaranteeing benefits grew at a rate below the rate of inflation. The interim report from the Resolution Foundation’s Economy 2030 survey shows: “Low-income households in the UK are now 22% poorer than their counterparts in France and 21% poorer than low-income households in Germany.” But pensioners – mostly Tory voters – have been protected by an average increase in real pensions of £510 a year since 2010, while families with children lost an average of £375 during the same period.

Polls show voters now view the Conservatives as a party for the rich. Hunt reinforced this by failing to put back the totemic cap on banker bonuses, of which salary will skyrocket while struggling mortgage payers see banks wallowing in extra cash from rising interest rates. One tax cut that Hunt again left untouched benefits the wealthiest the most: the proposed National Insurance Tax Abolition.

As they seek a ray of light in the growing darkness, you can hear Tories rejoicing in the misery Labor will inherit. An editorial in the Sunday Times even suggests that go to an election “would be strategically smarter for the Tories to let Labor face the economic challenges of the next few years.”

Well, go ahead, responds Labor. Tunnel-vision Toryism thinks spending cuts are the only way to balance the books, but Labor has other plans. Rachel Reeves asks today, “Why won’t they introduce a windfall tax on energy producers to help foot the bill?” Bloomberg reports that UK energy companies will make up to £170 billion in excess profits. The deals could apply to bank mortgage bonanzas or the six companies that have made Excess profit of £16bn during the pandemic. Labour’s plans are only half announced, pending the state of the Treasury. But so far they include the abolition of non-dom status (worth an additional £2bn) and the introduction of VAT on private schools (£2bn).

Labour’s green prosperity plan includes £28billion of investment in renewables and insulation, with profits plowed back into state-owned Great British Energy. His plans aren’t scaring markets either, with John Allan, Tesco’s chairman, only the latest to say he sees “no conservative growth planbut the emergence of a “quite plausible” Labour.

Other possibilities abound. Professor Arun Advani of the University of Warwick said a one-time raid of 1% on wealth, to be paid over five years, would raise £80 billion. Economist Richard Murphy thinks the £60-70bn invested in tax-free ISAs every year should only get this tax break if they are invested in boosting productivity. green government bonds. In times of war, wealth was enlisted, so why not now?

In all the turmoil brought by the Revolutionary Brexit party, we sometimes get a ray of sunshine, like this: Suella Braverman is ready to serve as leader, a minister told the Financial Times. “Suella will vote for the ERG.” Well, in the House of the Damned where the latest poll suggests 219 Tories would lose their seats in a general election, why not?


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