The public have had enough of Tory neoliberalism. The case for collectivism has never been greater

'Working class solidarity is the very opposite of  the law-of-the-jungle values promoted by Conservative ideologues'

£10 notes pegged to a washing line

Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth

Given the explosive growth in our country of poverty and deprivation in recent years, how do Conservative politicians sleep at night with a clean conscience? What kind of reasoning has led the Prime Minister to believe that doctors ought not to decide whether their patient is well enough to work.

Simple. They blame the poor for their own poverty. Easy as that. Self-exculpatory thinking. Others are to blame, but not the Tory government.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at various statements made by senior Conservative politicians in the modern era. 

On a visit to Glasgow, David Cameron told the poor in that impoverished city that their situation was – in part at least – the product of the decisions which they had made. He argued that: “Social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make.” Ignoring the evidence that poverty causes obesity, he said that a significant factor was the individual’s personal choices.  

Cameron’s comments were in 2008 but this is not the thinking of a bygone era. Just a few weeks ago the Deputy Chair of the Conservative party said of his own constituents:  Most of the kids who struggle in Bury are the products of crap parents.’

Of course, you might think these comments are just the ravings of a few individual Conservative outliers. In fact, they are reflective of a deeply held Tory philosophy. In government they have deliberately fostered an economy which has driven up poverty and then set about redistributing public funds to the more affluent areas. In seeking to be Prime Minister, Sunak told Tory party members that he had reversed the policy of funding deprived urban areas. He told a summer gathering of Conservative party members in Tunbridge Wells that as Chancellor he had instead ‘managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure that areas like this are getting the funding they deserve’.

No doubt there is an element of poverty in Tunbridge Wells, but the constituency is  one of the most prosperous areas in the whole country. The latest figures available show that residents have an average weekly income of £771.  In my constituency in West Yorkshire the equivalent weekly figure is £608. Sunak wasn’t promising more funding for public services for reasons of need.  He was saying there would be more funding for having returned a Tory MP.

Conservative governments have adopted economic and fiscal politics which sought to create a hard-faced selfish country based on division and greed.  In this ‘neoliberal’ worldview, everyone is in competition with each other. If you can believe that the poor are responsible for their own poverty, then you can have a conscience-free life if you are wealthy.

Mrs Thatcher once remarked that “Economics is the method. The object is to change the soul.” 45 years on from her first election,  we can say that our country has changed dramatically but has neoliberal economics really changed the souls of the British?

I do not believe the British soul has not been captured by Tory values. Indeed the reverse is the case and we can measure this by the growing tide of dissent in the country. 

The right to protest is an ancient British liberty.  Many millions of people in our country are making use of this right, whether its trade unionists, environmental campaigners or community activists.

The Government has reacted to public displays of opposition with alarm.  Rather than retreating from their reactionary principles, they have embraced increasingly authoritarian solutions. 

There are numerous examples of this process.  Anti-trade union legislation, strengthening of police powers, limits on the right to demonstrate and so on. They are even seeking to undermine the principle of universal suffrage with voter ID requirements.

In the face of the most stringent attack on working class living standards in decades, workers turned to their trades unions and we have seen the renaissance of industrial action in the last 2 years. The strikes have been of long duration but the members remained solid and met with many notable victories.

This working class solidarity is the very opposite of  the law-of-the-jungle values promoted by Conservative ideologues.  There are other examples of solidarity in almost every community in Britain. When people come together to either donate food or to volunteer in one of the thousands of  food banks, they are operating collectively to remedy the failure of the so-called ‘free market’ and the withdrawal of public services under the impact of austerity.  The same applies to the clothes banks and furniture banks designed to assist families who can’t afford clothing and furniture.

Opinion polls, too, show huge concern about inequality in Britain, with 74% of voters expressing concern about  inequality of wealth and income.   ⁠Only 18% say it is a small or non-existent problem.  By far the biggest concerns in the opinion polling is about the NHS whose very design embeds the principles of mutuality, reciprocity and collectivism.

Decades on from the inception of the neoliberal era we can see that not only has its economic promises failed.  But the very foundational principles of its value system have failed to convince people. The values of the Left remain deeply embedded in the national psyche. 

As we enter the long election period some Labour elders are advising the Opposition that we ought to reduce the scale of our offer.  They say our offer to the electorate ought to be that we are simply more competent than the Tories.  This would not be a difficult thing to achieve

But would it be enough?  I don’t think so. Acting within the same value system won’t work any more.  The electorate wants real change.  They are ahead of us.

We should be confident that it is our values which remain the strongest in the battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate. Solidarity, mutuality, collectivism, liberty, justice and fairness. These are deeply rooted principles. And they are the values of the Left. It’s time to make our case in simple, straightforward, confident and indeed fearless language.

Comments are closed.