23rd July 2022
Hollow sounds – Sunak and Truss seek to further their political ambitions
The war between factions in the Conservative Party, fronted by leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, continues on in its avoidance of addressing any of the issues which will improve the lives of working class people.
Debates around income tax, corporation tax, even national insurance levels, important though they are, will not tackle the structural issues which face many suffering at the sharp end of the capitalist system. The Tories, whoever is leader, have no strategy for tackling the housing crisis, driven by escalating prices and the ongoing desire for profit from house sales.
The de-population of many rural areas, is an increasing concern, as houses bought for holiday homes puts them beyond the reach of young people, who might otherwise want to stay in the area in which they were born. High rents make saving for a deposit challenging, especially with house prices artificially high, and with the Air B&B market for staycations expanding.
The urban alternative is often houses in multiple occupation and restricted disposable income, with salaries eaten by rent and transport costs. This situation often prevails in London but is becoming true of many other metropolitan centres. With job insecurity, temporary contracts and the gig economy on the increase the danger of homelessness is often just around the corner for many young people.
The new Tory leader may or may not stick with the ‘levelling up’ concept, beloved of Boris Johnson as a means to keep so-called ‘red wall’ seats, mainly made up of working class voters, onside with false promises before the next General Election. It is quite possible that Sunak and Truss would find it expedient to do so. History shows however that Tory promises are not only cheap but easily broken, sacrificed in the name of some other, more pressing crisis.
The housing charity, Shelter, is clear on the needs any new Prime Minister should address, stating,
“There has to be a plan to make sure local people benefit from the growth that comes from levelling up. And that means investing in good quality, energy-efficient social homes. Social homes with rents pegged to local incomes that stay affordable over time.”
Setting to one side the assumption that growth will come from levelling up, the rest of the Shelter statement makes perfect sense. Good quality local homes for local people at rents they can afford. It would not be a bad start. Add to that the repeal of the government’s right to buy legislation, which obliges local authorities to sell off Council housing stock, and a significant start to tackling the housing crisis would be underway.
The right to a home should be a guaranteed human right and in the world’s fifth largest economy it is a scandal that anyone should be homeless.
This situation is consistent with the privatisation of social provision, which has been key to the Tory agenda since the 1970’s. Comprehensive education has been replaced by the private sector driven academy system. Care for children and the elderly is run by private companies, primarily interested in profit rather than the people they are supposed to look after. There is no indication that either Sunak or Truss would seek to reverse any of that. On the contrary they are falling over themselves to prove who is the most consistent Thatcherite.
The BBC reported only this week on the scandal of children in care being housed in temporary accommodation, including boats and caravans, exploiting a legislative loophole that permits the use of such locations as ‘holiday accommodation’.
Carolyne Willow, director of the children’s charity, Article 39, stated in response,
“A young child moving from caravan to caravan defies understanding of what a holiday is. The government needs to amend the legislation to make it absolutely clear what constitutes holiday accommodation for children in care.”
Sunak and Truss have made no attempt to out compete each other in promises to more effectively support social care provision, through the proper funding of local authorities, or tackle the crisis in hospital waiting lists through making social care free at the point of use and NHS staffing levels realistic.
Both will bleat that this is all unaffordable, as they do when it comes to decent pay rises for rail, postal and public sector workers. That this will fuel inflation and worsen the economic crisis. It is convenient in many ways that the pandemic over the past two years allows the Tories to reference only recent history when it comes to the reasons for the looming recession. The fact is that the crisis runs far deeper and is a consequence of Tory economic mismanagement over the past decade.
Liz Truss did appear to break with convention this week when she stated that,
“We have had a consensus of the Treasury, of economists, with the Financial Times, with other outlets, peddling a particular type of economic policy for 20 years. It hasn’t delivered growth.”
However, her recipe to tackle this was an entirely conventional Tory play; cut personal taxes, cut corporation tax, reverse the increase in national insurance, suspend green levies on energy bills. All of which may put some money in the pockets of some individuals but will not address the structural problems born of the capitalist system, that the drive for personal wealth and corporate profit is always at the expense of the public good.
The leadership contest gives the Tories a chance to spread disinformation about the economy and dodge the hard measures required to address social need. The reality is that neither candidate has the answers because they remain beholden to maintain the system, which only ever operates in the interests of the ruling class and their cronies. For the working class, promises from the Tories will only ever have a hollow ring.
Labour has a great opportunity to expose the Tories lies, exploit their divisions and put forward a real alternative in favour of the working class. An agenda for the many, not the few perhaps?