Writing by Ciara Savvides. Artwork by Polly Burnay.
The Tory Party have recently revealed their so-called ‘growth’ plan, which will ostensibly lead to economic prosperity and increased social mobility; but it seems remarkably similar to rhetoric from the Cameron-Osbourne administration which only led to mass austerity and social deprivation. Yet again we’re being told by wooden, uncharismatic figureheads of free-market dogma that we simply must wait for the ubiquitous fabulous wealth promised by trickle-down economics.
Not only will this dramatically deepen the already intense cost of living crisis for the poorest people in the UK, but the government’s proposed priorities have continued to ignore the environmental crisis of climate change and the un-sustainability of capitalist consumption. For example, the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng attempted to justify the proposed increase on benefit sanctions alongside the publication of the £55,000 annual tax break for those with incomes of £1m, believing that these high earners will use this extra cash for investment, arguing that, “for too long we have indulged in a fight over redistribution”.
Based on this narrative, the Conservatives are planning to continue an economic trajectory, which is largely unchanged from 1979 when Margaret Thatcher came to power and that effectively skyrocketed wealth inequality. An Office of National Statistics report quoting 2021 Census data shows, “The richest 1% of households were those whose total wealth was more than £3.6 million. The least wealthy 10% of households had wealth of £15,400 or less. In this group at least half only held wealth in physical assets (with a mean value of £8,000) and almost half held more financial debt than they did financial assets.” According to Aaron Bastani of Novara Media, following similar claims for a refocused approach to growing the economy based on incentive and inward investment were the hallmarks of George Osbourne’s fiscal policy, which concentrated on cutting benefits and increasing VAT. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are using similar levers, tax cuts for the rich below inflation increases for benefit claimants, in virtually identical policies.
Capitalism now represents an existential threat to low and middle income families. Inversely, the promise of “prosperity tomorrow” reinforces a system of exploitation. This system maintains and increases wealth and inequality, and reaffirms the political and economic power of the super-rich, which they wield to prevent meaningful change. As the academic Terry Eagleton stated, “what used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism”, and with the latest economic plan from the Tory Party, a dangerous precedent “which is largely the consequence of capitalism itself” and that can only lead to violence between societies over stagnation and scarcity. Indeed, 53 million people are already projected to face fuel poverty by January 2023, whilst Shelter recently announced the total number of people in the UK who are continually struggling to pay their rent has increased by 45% since April 2022. This is creating a political vacuum that the left must fill; the alternative is to either face right-wing repression or
societal breakdown of catastrophic proportions.
Significantly, the rising interest rates and the crash of the pound has provided the Labour Party with an opportunity. They must exploit the empirical failures of Tory economic policy and use the threat of environmental genocide to undermine the fixation on capitalist consumption. According to a recent YouGov poll, Labour has opened a 33-point lead following the mini-budget mayhem. Does this constitute a silver lining in the context of working-class agency? Or does the recent conference season prove that Keir Starmer has permanently shut the door on the left?
Labour leader Keir Starmer’s recent refusal to support the rallying cry for electoral reform has deepened the division within the Labour Party. He has reinforced the allegations of abandoning support for left-wing policies and continues to promote his own agenda for the precedence of pragmatism over ideology. As Michael Chessum recently observed, Keir Starmer’s leadership has merely intensified the divergence between the organised left fighting for the interests of the workers, and a class of centrist politicians committed to gradual reform. Through this narrative, the chance to renew the fervour of radical change ended with Jeremy Corbyn’s downfall; as it stands, the political left is “absent from the public debate because it lacks its own political vehicle”. We must now look outside the boundaries of parliamentary change and consider the diverging paths available to the organised left, ditching reform, in favour of demanding change.
Terry Eagleton, ‘Why Marx was Right’