Poll has revealed Rishi Sunak's worst failures

Is the Tory election disaster simply due to bad luck? NO!

That goldmine of political discussion topics, Simon Wren-Lewis at Mainly Macro, has asked another great question this week: Is the Tory election disaster simply due to bad luck?

He says yes (although he does qualify it). I say no.

The first element of misfortune suffered by Johnson, according to Professor Wren-Lewis, was the Covid-19 pandemic:

It exposed the government’s arrogance in believing rules did not apply to them. Holding illegal parties in No.10 is the obvious example, but the corruption over PPE contracts is another.

Why is that bad luck? The government’s corruption would have been exposed in other ways if the pandemic had not happened.

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Is it bad luck because the public reaction was harsher due to the nature of the corruption? We don’t know how else it might have been exposed; the alternatives might have been worse. We can say that the exposure was always going to happen because Johnson and his people were arrogant.

This leads to the second element – finance:

If the pandemic hadn’t happened, and growth had instead continued at its earlier level, it is possible that Johnson could have put enough money towards levelling up and public services to keep his red wall voters happy, without the need to raise taxes in a way that upset his MPs and more traditional base.

Prof Wren-Lewis is suggesting that Johnson’s broad strategy was to be socially conservative but economically left-wing, which would have been a reversal of the direction of travel of other recent governments (both Labour and Tory).

But “Levelling-Up” was never about actually helping disadvantaged communities, as we realised when the money was actually distributed – primarily to constituencies with Conservative representatives.

As for public services – look at the NHS, that has been starved of resources since at least 2011. Prof Wren-Lewis even refers to this in his article.

Thirdly – immigration:

The pandemic put a steady increase in labour force participation into reverse, leading to labour shortages as the economy recovered and therefore record immigration. This was bad luck in electoral terms because it provided ammunition to Reform and Farage, who could with some justification claim that Brexit had promised less rather than more immigration.

Gary Stevenson, of Gary’s Economics, recently suggested that “the biggest new idea… is that the problem is immigrants” (see this video clip, starting at the 15:50 point).

But the Tories themselves have been banging on about immigrants since at least 2013, if not before – because they operate on a “divide and rule” basis and wanted a bogeyman with which to frighten the gullible masses of Little England.

It’s an ancient – fascist – idea. Think of the Nazis in Germany, attacking Jews as foreigners coming into their country and taking all the money, during the economic crisis of the Weimar republic.

It could be argued that this was bad luck – but it could be equally argued that it is self-inflicted – simply the Tories’ own policy coming back to bite them. All they really had to do to deter Farage and his cronies was point out that bringing in workers from abroad is something the UK has done throughout its history, when necessary.

However some of this bad luck was self-inflicted, because Johnson and Sunak failed to provide the NHS with sufficient resources to clear the backlog of cases created by the pandemic.

Again, this would be an example of Tory policy coming back to bite them. And why did they not simply put the necessary money and resources into the NHS to clear that backlog? Ideology.

They had spent nearly 10 years starving the NHS in order to make it ripe for privatisation, using the lie that private companies could run health better. If they had then pumped resources back into the service and, using those resources, it had cleared the backlog, then the lie would have been exposed and they could not have used it to trigger privatisation.

That’s also true about immigration: having lied that immigrants were the cause of UK citizens’ financial/economic woes, the Tories could not then say immigrants were needed to resolve them.

Next – the cost-of-living crisis:

If the pandemic was the government’s first piece of bad luck, the cost of living crisis was the second. As we saw after the Global Financial Crisis, governments lose support among voters after economic crises even if those crises are global in origin. The 2019-24 period is unique in recent history in seeing an actual decline in living standards. Only a small part of that fall can be blamed on government decisions.

Only a small part? That rings untrue. The cost of living crisis was partly caused by an increase in the cost of energy and foreign produce to which the government had exposed the UK by making us vulnerable to foreign energy price fluctuations through privatisation and to high food prices through Brexit. The other main cause was the £800 billion the Tories gave to their rich mates during the pandemic, which those rich mates then used to massively increase prices by buying up whatever they could and creating scarcity.

That’s not bad luck. It’s the product of deliberate policy.

Finally, there’s the rejection of the socially conservative/economically liberal model of government with the election of Liz Truss as prime minister, and the continuation of her policies under Rishi Sunak:

Once Johnson’s position became weak, he and his then Chancellor was forced to pander to the desire for tax cuts, and with Truss and Sunak the party reverted to a very right wing economic agenda. As a result the Conservative party itself abandoned the strategy that had been so successful in attracting red wall voters, and with a Labour opposition determined to win these voters back and with voters focused on economic issues its fate was sealed.

Again: that is not bad luck. It is a deliberate policy error.

An incoming government could learn from this – but with Labour keen to emulate Tory policy in the belief that that’s where the votes are (and Labour’s sole purpose for existing is to gain power, rather than to achieve well-being for the population once it has been gained), we cannot expect to reap the benefits of any such lessons.

Bookmark this article because – if Labour wins on July 4 – you will be able to watch Keir Starmer fall into all the same traps as the Tories from whom he claims to be the change.

Source: mainly macro: Why is this election a disaster for the Conservatives?

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