The Conservatives have achieved an amazing PR success with their lie* that they have been engaged for the past seven years in "clearing up the mess left by Labour." Now they are embarked on clearing up several other messes, but without acknowledging that is it they and their policies which caused the mess in the first place.
Take, for example, housing. Mrs May has just realised that there is a national shortage of affordable housing and so has announced in her conference speech that the government will sanction an additional £2b of expenditure to alleviate it. It is not awfully clear from where the £2b is to come (central government subsidy, local authority borrowing?) but the intention is good, though the funding is probably inadequate.
There's no mention in the speech, however, as to why there is a shortage of such housing. It originates in Margaret Thatcher's policy of "right to buy", introduced in 1980. This forced (not allowed, but forced) local authorities to sell off their council houses to tenants, who were tempted to buy by massive discounts. The local authorities were not permitted to use the receipts to build replacement council houses, so the supply of affordable rented accommodation diminished.
The Tory aim was to create a "property owning democracy" which, Mrs Thatcher hoped, would convert more people into Tory voters. Maybe some have obliged, but many of the discount- bought houses have been sold on and today some 40% of the former council houses are now owed by private buy-to let landlords, who, of course, charge "economic rents," so have acquired a "nice little earner."
Bizarrely the "right to buy" continues and has now been extended to housing association tenants. Maybe the right will not apply to any new social housing built, but, so far, joined up thinking this is not.
The second area now recognised as a "mess" is the energy companies who over-charge for gas and electricity. Again the problem is caused by Conservative doctrine which required the privatisation of the publicly owned and regionally organised suppliers (in my area they were the Yorkshire Electricity Board, YEB, and the North Eastern Gas Board, NEGB. They both ran separate and friendly showrooms where you could pay your bills, buy appliances, and, if you wanted, complain. ).
The gas suppliers were privatised in 1986 (those with funds enough to buy the shares in response to the "Tell Sid" campaign made a comfortable profit) and electricity suppliers in 1990. The idea was that the "discipline of the market" would lead to more efficient supplies, higher investment and lower prices. Ed Miliband's policy in the 2015 that the prices were unreasonably high and should be capped was treated with scorn by the Tories, but now Mrs May has adopted the policy, naturally with no explanation or apology.
Although the "strong and stable " Tory campaign theme of the 2017 election did not have the effect they desired we are still repeatedly told that we need a strong and determined government in " these very difficult times." Well, of course the times are of unprecedented difficulty - because David Cameron recklessly tried to solve an internal party problem by calling a referendum on membership of the EU, failing to legislate for the necessary safeguards and being too complacent to campaign effectively for continued membership.
So there we are: "Another fine mess. . . " as Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel in the films of my childhood.
Just to illustrate what good government can be like a friend whose sister takes the Daily Mail has passed to me a cutting that tells me:
- The government of Norway set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund in the 1990s to invest the country's oil riches;
- the fund is now worth more than $1tn;
- that's about £140 000 per Norwegian;
- the fund is invested all round the world and owns 1.4% of all global equities;
- it does not invest in companies that produce tobacco, nuclear weapons or land mines.
I'm not arguing that without the Tories life in the UK would be all sweetness and light - even a Liberal government would find that a tough call. But I am sure that history will show that the Tories have been responsible for much (or should that be many?) of the dire straights we find ourselves in today.
* For readers not up to speed on this one, the "mess" was actually caused by the near collapse of the world's banking systems in the financial crisis of 2007/8. Incredibly, Conservative PR managed to place the blame on Labour overspending. The Conservatives were, of course (and still are!) chief proponents of the deregulation which lead to the irresponsible lending by the banks which caused the crisis. Sadly and inexplicably the Labour Party were very timid about defending their record. so history was, and to some extent still is, rewritten.
**Post script (added 7th October). Just to show that this lie is "par for the course" rather than a blip, here is a letter from a Neville Westerman in yesterday's Guardian.
" It is a matter of historical record that the Conservatives voted against universal health in 1948, as they voted against universal dole and universal pensions in 1909, and universal education in 1870. I remember the vicious and dishonest hostility against the NHS by the Troy party in 1948 , which was very similar to the present attitude of the US Republicans.. But Jeremy Hunt declared to conference that the Conservatives have always supported the NHS. The success of the Tory party to gain power has largely been based on its eagerness to tell blatant lies. Tory policy for 150 years has been largely inhumane, devoid of compassion and opposed to the welfare state, but defended by lying, their "not so secret" weapon . . . ."
Sadly, the Tories' other "not so secret " weapon is a biassed press which gives credence, publicity and reinforcement to their distortions (to put it more politely)
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