As the two contenders for the Tory leadership engage in a race to the bottom in terms of honesty, relevance and decency, my friend John Cole, a fellow former teacher of Economics who served for 14+ years as a Liberal Democrat on Bradford Metropolitan Council, and I decided to put together a list of mistaken Tory policies which have been implemented in our lifetimes. We started with an aim of about a dozen, but the list grew longer and longer. My apologies, therefore, that this post is somewhat longer than usual. John is relatively youthful so the first item was not in his lifetime.
NHS. Bitterly opposed its creation in 1947. They were not, of course, in power, but it’s worth remembering this when, now that it is a “National Treasure,” they claim to support it while looking for ways to privatise more and more of it.
EUROPE. Failed to participate in the setting up of the Coal and Steel Community in 1952, and then the EEC in 1957. There were lengthy delays before we joined the ERM and when we did so it was at an unrealistic rate, leading to our being humiliatingly forced out on Black Wednesday in 1992.
SUEZ. The ignominious failure of this venture in 1956 was a clear illustration that Britain was no longer a 19th century- style Great Power capable of independent international action.
MAU MAU UPRISING (KENYA). The brutal treatment of Africans fighting for independence demonstrates that the empire was not always the avuncular institution we like to pretend. In particular the failure of the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox- Boyd, to take responsibility for the Hola Camp Massacre (1959) and resign from his post, was an early breach of the constitutional conventions which have become so frequent in recent years. Maybe the beginning of the end of the “good chap theory of government.”
BLUE STREAK. Untold millions were spent on this attempt to build an intermediate range ballistic missile to deliver Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. After its cancellation in 1960 we’ve borrowed an American one: how independent is that?
PRIVATISATION. The selling- off of public assets at knock-down prices in the hope of creating a share-holding (and Tory voting) democracy. Most of the shares are now in the hands of hedge-funds etc. and many of the utilities are now owned by foreign companies, even some governments.
RIGHT TO BUY. Similarly, the selling of the social housing stock to tenants in the hope that they became Tory-voting owner-occupiers. Over 40% of the stock sold is now in the hands of buy-to-let landlords.
DEREGULATION. Regulations are rules it is the duty of any government to make to protect us from chancers, charlatans and bullies. Here are just two consequences. The abolition of the Parker Morris standards for houses in 1980 means that typical newly-built dwellings in the UK are barely half the size of new Greek or Danish homes. The failure to supervise and check on such standards as still exist has contributed to such tragedies as the Grenfell Fire (2017) and 71 deaths.
THE BIG BANG AND TAX HAVENS. Financial deregulation has opened the door to increased tax avoidance and financial opportunism. Londongrad has become a repository for funds from questionable sources.
THE FALKLANDS WAR. The withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic gave a signal which the Argentine government took to mean the UK would no longer defend the Falkland Islands. The ensuing war (1982) cost nearly 900 lives, mostly semi-trained young Argentinians.
SECTION 28. This series of laws across Britain prohibited the alleged "promotion of homosexuality" by local schools and authorities. It was in effect from 1988 to 2000 in Scotland and from 1988 to 2003 in England and Wales.
THE POLL TAX. An attempt to ensure that everyone paid for local services, even if they hadn’t any money. It was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales in1990. It proved unpopular and unworkable, led to the defenestration of Mrs Thatcher and was replaced by banded council taxes in 1993. Since then no government has dared to re-evaluate the bands.
EMASCULATION OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES. This has continued steadily under both Conservative and Labour governments. UK government has become more centralised and local authorities increasingly merely agents of the centre with very limited powers to act or raise taxes independently.
AUSTERITY. Since 2010 the reduction in real terms of expenditure on all public services, including the NHS, leading to lengthy hospital waiting lists, a backlog in the courts, a barely functioning care service for the elderly, and the services provided by local authorities, including child protection, pared to a minimum. Spending on social security for those in poverty has been cut by 25%. The Bedroom Tax and the Two Child Limit indicate a vindictive attitude to struggling families.
THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT. Refugees from discrimination, persecution and torture are entitled in international law to apply for asylum in countries they consider safe. The hostile environment created by Mrs May when she was Home Secretary, continued since then and now including deportation to Rwanda, is callous, inhumane and probably illegal.
FAILURE TO TAKE CLIMATE CRISIS SERIOUSLY . Former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson has been a leading climate change denier. Of the two current candidates for the leadership of the party, Rishi Sunak reduced the VAT on petrol and Liz Truss proposes to drop the Green Levy.
HOUNDING OF THE BBC. The BBC is almost universally respected as “the best in the World and the envy of the World” but the Tories are constantly sniping at it and threatening its financial independence. Funding has been cut by some 30% since 2010. The commercially funded public service broadcaster Channel 4 has also proved highly successful in providing investigative news and adventurous drama and is now also under threat.
LIES IN THE REFERENDUM FOR ELECTORAL REFORM. The Coalition Agreement of 2010 gave the impression that the Conservatives would remain neutral in the referendum campaign, but in fact they campaigned against it and poisoned it with misinformation.
ACADEMISATION OF SCHOOLS. (ongoing since 2010). In practice, privatisation. Among other abuses, hectares of playing fields have been sold off for private profit.
BREXIT. (Referendum 2016) An abrogation of our opportunities to develop peace and concord in Europe, a reduction in our abilities to influence world politics, and the ability effectively to fight a trade war against ourselves.
EXIT FROM THE CUSTOMS UNION AND SINGLE MARKET. (January 2021) The Leave Campaign implied that this would not happen, but the ERG faction of the Tory party forced the government to the hardest and most damaging form of quitting the EU.
CUTS IN OVERSEAS AID. Abandonment of the pledge, written into law, to maintain overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP. Lest we forget, Rishi Sunak , a candidate for the Tory leadership, was the minister responsible
TWO THREATS TO BREAK INTERNATIONAL LAW. The Internal Market Act (2020) and the abrogation of the Northern Ireland Protocol (pending). Both smear the UK’s reputation as a pillar of the law-abiding liberal democratic world.
Respect for these is pilloried as being “woke” and they are now under threat.
Our democratic right to protest is being seriously limited and our
trade union movement has been severely constrained.
MISMANAGEMENT OF THE COVID PANDEMIC. (2020 and continuing); following the failure to implement the key recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise (2016) on how to be prepared for a predicted health pandemic.
INTERFERENCE WITH THE FRANCHISE. Second preference voting, where it existed, removed, and pictorial evidence needed for voter identification. The Electoral Commission made subject to government control.
If that's not enough this earlier post examines in more detail the myth of Tory economic competence.