Comment: The Tories have now gone further than Thatcher – to the extremes of British politics

The parallels in tone with the Thatcher era were clear


In front of around 8,000 people at Manchester Cathedral on Monday night, at the People’s Post rally called by the CWU, I described our current government as an extremist government, one that wants to strangle democracy and push on with privatisation of public services and assets even when the model has clearly failed.

I was thinking then of the plan to stop democratically elected councils implementing bans on products and companies they believe to be destructive to the interests of their residents, if the ban goes against the policies of the national government.

That could have a devastating effect on the increasingly powerful drive to get local authorities and their pension funds to divest from fossil fuels – handy for the government’s many friends in the dinosaur fossil fuel industries.

Added to the extremist anti-democratic tone of this government, there’s the plan to abolish the Human Rights Act, the cuts to legal aid and the plan to prevent local communities resisting the forced academisation of schools.

I was thinking too of Michael Gove – the man who’s made our schools such hell that half of teachers are thinking of leaving the profession – who now wants to privatise more of our prisons, even though evidence clearly shows that privatised prisons are less humane and effective at rehabilitation, and more expensive, than those still in public hands.

And I was thinking of the sell-off of Royal Mail – the ‘privatisation of the Queen’s head’ that even Margaret Thatcher could not countenance.

At Tory Party conference, the parallels in tone with the Thatcher era were clear.

On Sunday 60,000 people, in an act of defiant, peaceful, celebratory, determined protest, expressed their opposition to austerity, to privatisation, to the failure to take policy to tackle climate change seriously. We were many, compared to the few at Tory Party conference.

Yet here was Theresa May expressing a hard line on immigration policy that even Nigel Farage might find hard to outdo. Refugees, victims of torture and state abuse should be allowed, reluctantly, to stay, but only until conditions in their country are judged to have improved, after which they should be shipped back – making Britain not a secure, stable home for those in desperate need, but a temporary, unstable, fearful perching place.

And her ‘tough new plan for asylum’ would limit the numbers given asylum – and deny it to those lucky enough to reach Britain’s shores – in clear breach of our obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.

The strength of her anti-immigration message even outraged the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The former described her stance as ‘rhetoric’ and accused her of putting internal party politics ahead of the national interest.

And there was Iain Duncan Smith displaying a detachment from the facts that even Karl Rove might envy. He doesn’t want disabled and ill people to be ‘victims to be sustained on government handouts‘.

Instead he’s made them victims of penury and fear through the work capability assessment, the ending of the Independent Living Allowance, the 20 per cent cut in help with the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment and the axe of benefit sanctions hanging over them.

Similarly Rovian was Boris Johnson saying we need shared confidence in our political institutions. This from a man who’s part of a government backed by just 24 per cent of eligible voters.

And I’m sure someone somewhere said something about climate change. There are a lot of fringes at Tory Party conference, and campaigners no doubt were plugging away, doing their best, but in the main messages from the conference it was nowhere to be found.

You might remember before the last election that David Cameron, together with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, made a solemn pledge to take serious steps to cut our carbon emissions. Now Al Gore is just one of the many people pointing out that the government is headed in entirely the wrong direction on that.

With its planned cuts to solar feed-in tariffs, its ideological opposition to onshore wind, its abandonment of standards to ensure new homes are warm, comfortable and affordable to heat, the government has whipped the rug out from under tens of thousands of small businesses, and alienated its natural ally, the CBI.

There’s an extremist anti-renewables stance here, combined with a solicitous concern for the welfare of the oil and gas industries who are just about the only people – well perhaps add in the anti-immigration zealots – who will feel better about the Tories after yesterday’s events at their conference.

This is a government heading to the extremes of Thatcherism, just as the country heads in the opposite direction. A government detached from reality, detached from compassion, and detached from the evidence on climate change.

We really cannot afford, the most vulnerable in our society cannot bear, the planet cannot take, four more years of this government.

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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39 Responses to “Comment: The Tories have now gone further than Thatcher – to the extremes of British politics”

  1. Charlatans

    Oh dear democracy is a real problem for Natalie from her first sentence here.

    Democratic power given freely by the majority of people. Shame you cannot take it!

  2. Janine Gove

    I really believe this is all about profit and appeasing their big business sponsors from the fossil fuel industry. Does anyone else feel that, with regard to climate change, the Tories have decided within themselves that it’s a lost cause? I get this sense that they intend wring out as many pennies as possible, buy a few stupidly expensive & purely decorative toys (Trident), then get out while they still can leaving the next government with an impossible mess.

  3. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    And what democracy would that be? The ‘democracy’ that allows a government untrammelled excutive authority on the votes of just 25% of the electorate? By the goverment’s own professed standards, this is not democracy, for under the legislation proposed by this same government for the unions, such a low level of support would rule out any action whatsover.

  4. Charlatans

    Oh, must have missed it! Who got more votes than the Tories?

    It was in the manifesto that democratic, double threshold would have to be met in any strike called in health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy sectors – including the Border Force and nuclear decommissioning, due to the enormous damage to the nation. What is your plan to rectify such abuse of power? .

  5. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    The right to strike is a basic right for any workers. How else are they supposed to prevent their employees from exploiting them? Limiting the right to strike merely allows the government to impose poor wages and bad working conditions. How do you propose that workers in these vital industries should be able to protect themselves from exploitation if their right to strike is effectively withdrawn?

    Your point about the manifesto is rather undermined by the fact that this manifesto only got the support of 25% of the electorate – hardly an overwhelming mandate. Indeed, not a sufficient mandate, according to the ‘democratic, double threshold’ which the government wishes to impose on the unions. If such democracy is good enough for the unions, why is it not good enough for the government?

    My plan to rectify the abuse of power, and the enormous damage inflicted on the nation, by the Tories would be that they should apply the same democratic standards to themselves as they wish to impose on the unions. After all, surely they wouldn’t wish to apply double-standards, would they?

  6. Alex Mason

    Natalie, it is you who is at the extreme of British Politics.

  7. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    Rather unfair, methinks

  8. Lovejoy

    Tax dodgers cause more trouble than strikers. Our absurd voting system means 1 in 4 adults made Cameron Prime Minister – just because he won under the daft rules, it doesn’t make him a democratic leader.

  9. Charlatans

    OK, I get it. You want to change the General Elections voting system.

    Did I miss something else?

    Like did not Clegg attempt to democratically change the voting system, as part of the coalition agreement?

    Hmm…., that change to voting system election did not go well. They lost. So this is what we got to live with for now. Still it is open for democratic change in the future, I am sure. That is the beauty of our system.

    However you are correct. The right to strike is important, I wholeheartedly agree. I say this as a guy from a 6 kids family that was turned onto the streets in the 60s, out of a Council House, (father a Union Shop Steward who hit hard times),

    But that right has to be balanced somehow, to ensure essential services are maintained.

    It is obvious to me that in an open democracy like ours, for example, where you get skilled push button train drivers going on strike to earn even more than say 8 year trained Easyjet pilots, that power to disrupt so many millions of lives so easily, is going to get leveled somehow in our democracy. It is not like Manchester United players where such rewarded talent cannot be so easily changed is it?

  10. blarg1987

    But they do not propose to limit PLC’s in Industry under the same legislation that can cause even greater damage tot eh nation, by say brining an industry to its knees.

  11. Nick

    this government has gone much further to the right mrs thatcher destroyed communities this government has allowed the sick and disabled to die through welfare reform which is far worse

  12. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    Whatever else our voting is, it is not ‘democratic’. That a government can be elected to untrammelled power by just 25% of the electorate does not suggest a properly functioning democracy.

    And point remains, why should unions be held to a higher standard of democratic accountability than the government? Again, if simple first-past-the-post is good enough for general elections, why is not good enough for unions? The current government has caused far more disruption to millions of lives than the unions; why should be held to a lower standard of account?

    And why are the pay demands of train drivers, who perform a vital and necessary public service, so much more in need of control that those of the utterly grotesquely overpaid financial sector? Why does the government so cravenly submit to the brazen blackmail of the financial sector, which is so dependent on state benefits?

    And incidentally, how does the football analogy work? After all, footballers are hardly vital workers in the same way that train drivers are.

  13. Charlatans

    Most PLCs generally are in a market economy where you can nearly always find someone else to competitively supply you, except in a minority of cases.

  14. blarg1987

    However if say 10% of people turn out to vote on PLC’s they can end up closing down industries and cripple parts of the national economy etc.

  15. neuralwarp

    But I thought the govt had the mandate of 24% of *registered* voters, and only 20% of *eligible* voters?

  16. Mike Stallard

    What is now obvious to most people is that the Conservatives are the progressive, caring, dynamic, forward thinking people and the Labour Party are the conservatives! Very confusing indeed. When the Conservatives split over Associated membership of the EU in 2017, just before Mr Cameron;s departure, I suspect that an awful lot of Blairites will join up, leaving the fossilised Corbynites and the Ukip mob at each end of the spectrum.

  17. Mike Stallard

    “Right”? “Left”? What do you mean? What are you talking about?

  18. Mike Stallard

    As soon as people (Ukip, LibDems, now Labour itself) start bleating about changing the rules when they lose the match, you know that they are finished.

  19. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    Politics is not a sport. It matters. First-past-the-post does not produce a democratic election. It is hardly ‘bleating’ to recognise that simple fact, and to demand change. And for the record, I have been a supporter of PR since I first learned about it at school, some thirty-five years ago – FPTP is just as undemocratic whether it produces a vastly unrepresentative Labour majority or a vastly unrepresentative Tory majority. Why should those who vote for parties other than Labour or the Tories have their votes discounted? How is that democratic?

  20. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    The Tories may be ‘dynamic’, but in what conceivable senses of the words are they ‘progressive, caring, forward thinking’? This is the government that callously condemns many of the most vulnerable of its own citizens to abject penury, and which is determined to drive back society to the Victorian era of laisez-faire and exploitation.

  21. steroflex

    No, rather it produces two parties. You have to belong to either one to get power. In countries where this does not happen, there is never a stable government and long term planning (5 years) is impossible. The last coalition was, to my mind, a disaster.
    Without the present system – and perhaps with it – the Labour Party will be condemned for ever to be a fringe party with a fringe leader and a fringe set of allies. Is this what you really want?
    PS I can use the word “democracy” too. It is de rigeur for all polticians. M. Juncker uses it a lot too and who elected him?

  22. steroflex

    “callously condemns many of the most vulnerable of its own citizens to abject penury, and which is determined to drive back society to the Victorian era of laisez-faire and exploitation.”.
    I do not see it like that at all.
    Mr Cameron and the rest of the Conservatives, like the Labour Party, want to get re-elected. This means that they have to be nice to the great majority of British people.
    If they really were as you say, they would not be in power now because, I am sure, we both trust the judgement of the British electorate.
    There are two alternatives: work, pay, low tax, look after your family and make sure that genuine hard cases are given love and attention.
    Allow the government to look after people with high taxation, a lot of social provision to which everyone is entitled as a right, and a large state bureaucracy.
    That is the stark choice. Neither side deserves rubbishing. Both points of view, though different, are sensible.

  23. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    Actually, the Tories needed the spport of just 25% of the electorate to get into power – hardly the great majority, rather a small minority. And they’ve certainly given up being nice to large sections of the population en bloc, such as the young, who tend not to vote. There are inumerable genuine hard cases who are being given neither love nor attention; the long-term sick and disabled are beng treated as skivers who should be forced back to work – how is that not callous? Furthermore, there are many who work extremely hard, yet who are paid very poor wages, insufficient to maintain a decent lifestyle. There are basic services, such as health, education, police, justice, and infrastructure, which, if they are to be equally accessible to all, have to be paid for by taxation. And it’s all very well to say should rely on their families; but what happens to those who don’t have a family, or whose family won’t help them, or indeed, where whole families are trapped in poverty? Personally, I don’t consider the point of view of everyone for themselves as very sensible at all.

  24. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    So, are you arguing that the term ‘democracy’ is meaningless, and that it’s a bad thing anyway, because it doesn’t produce stable government?

    Comparisons are insidious, but it might be pointed out that the Soviet Union had stable governments, with plenty of five-year-plans.

  25. Mike Stallard

    At the end of the day, we run up against reality.
    Life is hard.
    Get used to it!

  26. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    This just proves my point. The Tories are callous and uncaring – and evidently, so are their supporters. The fact that life is hard is precisely why civilised societies should do all that is possible to ameliorate that hardness.

  27. steroflex

    The scary bit is this: A lot of Tories have sacrificed their careers to look after the people who are not rich. You haven’t noticed, have you. But they have. They have also been hated for their trouble. I want to cite Owen Paterson who spoke out against the floods which had been deliberately caused in the Somerset levels.
    I did not see such a level of concern when the Labour were in power. Lord Adonis was snuffed out pretty fast.
    If only it were as simple as Tories Bad, Labour Good! If only.

  28. steroflex

    But terribly true: look at the election results.

  29. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    No, not all Tories are evil – some of them are merely stupid. The prevention of floods requires the expenditure of government money; and the Tory government is ideologically hampered by its rigid adherence to failed neoliberal dogma when it comes to spending government money. As for Labour, it has included plenty of stupid and venal politicians amongst its ranks. After all, the last Labour government was stupid enough to wholeheartedly adopt those same economic idiocies enthusiastically promoted by the Tories, which led to the catastrophic near-collapse of the world’s economic system.
    Yet it is the present Tory government which is deliberately and knowingly inflicting penury on some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable of its own citizens. Would you care to explain in what way that is not callous and uncaring?

  30. steroflex

    My on position is actually this: I believe that above all we ought to leave the EU. It is crystal clear that Mr Cameron has absolutely no intention of doing this. So I am forced to look round for an alternative.
    The danger is that I shall think tribally: X GOOD:YBAD.
    This is not how I work. Anyone at all who is as determined as I am is my friend and ally. Everyone who is against me is honourable (probably) and to be respected. But wrong, unless they can convince me they are right. Mr Guy Verhofstadt, for example has nasty teeth but this does not mean he is uncaring – and I do not believe he is. Mr Claude Juncker is under a charge of corruption in his own country, but he could very well be right.
    So I listen carefully to what they say and draw my own conclusions.
    Being rude and hating the opposition leads to Corbynism which, very soon is going to be seen as the dictatorship which it is.

  31. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    Being rude and hating the opposition is just as much a feature of the right as the left – if not more so. Just consider the smears on Corbyn (and before him, on Milliband and Brown) by the right. As for dictatorship, Corbyn is singularly ineffectual as a dictator.

  32. Mike Stallard

    I don’t think you have seen anything yet. The disgusting accusations – half apologised for – of a man who was terminally ill with cancer, the threats against non Corbynite ministers and MPs are the beginnings of a very sinister development actually.
    Please go on any of these websites and see if you can find any swearing, any personal attacks ad hominem and how any remarks not backed by provable facts are simply shot down:
    John Redwood, EUReferendum, Breitbart, Ukip, Conservative Home, even to some extent Guido Fawkes.

  33. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    Oh come on – all those you cite are full of hatred and bile against the left. And what about Lynton Crosby? And those crass insults in Cameron’s conference speech? And have you ever looked at the hate-mongering Daily Mail?

  34. Mike Stallard

    Well, actually they aren’t. They are seriously trying to get some sense out of the present. Tolle lege!

  35. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    So when the left are rude, they’re being authoritarian, and when the right are rude, they’re just trying to make sense of things? Are you seriously suggesting that it is possible to find sense in the Daily Mail?

  36. Lovejoy

    Do you mean stable government and long term planning like in the Soviet Union? Plenty of governments world wide are selected by PR – last time I checked the sky hadn’t fallen in.

  37. Swift John

    Tories Bad, Tory Lite Bad.. simples.

  38. Mike Stallard

    Yes, of course. It is full of some of the best reporting there is. So is the Guardian.
    I am afraid that the old two party system is broken now. The Conservatives are the old Labour and the Labour are years behind the curve. Ukip is talking a lot of sense to working people too. So is the SNP. Both are in touch. The Lib Dems could easily arise once more with the 1970s Corbyns in power.

    Underestimating the real enemy is very dangerous. Very dangerous.

  39. Mike Stallard

    If you went onto Conservative Home and read “Labour Bad. New Labour Bad. Simples.”
    Wouldn’t you just dismiss it as far too – well – simplistic?

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