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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