Conservative Party conference this year launched with the slogan 'Securing a better future.' They are claiming to be the safe pair of hands, the party that can manage recovery, the party that must be kept at the wheel for the 'successes' of the last few years to continue. At heart, their message is to ask for our trust. That's right- the government that has spent four years slashing and burning everything the most vulnerable depend on, be it education, youth services disability, social care services, disability and sickness support, housing support, legal aid for those who don't have access to to it otherwise, council tax relief, fair wages, universities- the list goes on and on. They ask for us our trust for them to make tough choices, and yet beneath sloganeering and carefully-crafted speeches, there lies nothing. Their 'hard choices' are only hard for the poor, who are being leeched off once more to help the rich. Same old Tories.
They've done quite well at trying to present a new face. They've managed to claim they're on the side of all those who work hard. But that claim relies on the cynical politics of pitting one set of ordinary people against another- the struggling benefit claimant against the struggling worker, the parent trying to support their children against the unionised teacher fighting for a fair pension, the hardworking immigrant against the hardworking native. I'm fed up with it. It is a politics that relies on systematically misleading people.
Let's have a look beneath the speeches at what the Conservatives have pledged so far this conference. The plan for wiping out youth unemployment this includes getting rid of housing benefit for 18-21s, and cutting their jobseekers' allowance as well. Their message is simple- if for whatever reason you can't find work, we will leave you out in the cold. It relies on assuming that all young people have secure homes to go back to, and so drives the most vulnerable people further underground. I don't say this academically, but as a local mayor who has to deal with the effects of crippling poverty and social exclusion on a daily basis.
They excuse all that by talking of the so-called need to target 'the scroungers' so that the 'hardworking people' don't have to 'pay for them.' But the hard workers are losing out just as much. Whilst unemployment might be down, the 'economic recovery' is a burden on the backs of every worker struggling to keep themselves afloat in an insecure job. In-work poverty has risen and continues to rise to staggering levels. As ever, the topsy-turvy logic of the Tories has an answer to this- because wages are rising more slowly than benefits, we should cut benefits rather than raise wages.
This is the Tories' great deception. Even if we were to agree on the number of 'scroungers' and the need for everyone to work, attacking benefits claimants just doesn't work. It hurts everyone, and in the end it hurts the economy. It attacks all claimants, genuine or otherwise. It stokes up prejudice to the point where violent assaults on claimants have increased. And it means less money in the hands of ordinary people, in and out of work, to spend in the shops, services and businesses that the Conservatives claim to support.
Meanwhile, despite committing to further cuts, Cameron has announced a tax holiday for the rich. Whilst he might be right about the need to take the poorest out of the tax bracket, his plans disproportionately help higher earners. Among the 2.2 million families paying income tax and on universal credit or council tax support, their family income would increase by only 0.8%, whilst the richest ten per cent benefit most. If government's coffers are as empty as the Conservatives say they are, the vulnerable should be prioritised. Yet the £3bn benefit freeze is being used to pay for a £4bn tax cut.
Cameron and his band have lost the right to our trust. More and more, people aren't standing for it. Whether it's the twenty-nine single mothers that have taken over an abandoned estate in protest for affordable homes, the Scots who used the referendum debate to talk about challenging poverty rather than redrawing lines on maps, or the deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly with huge numbers of people calling for welfare cuts to be blocked, there are people who have had enough and want a politics that listens to them. The Tories like to talk about the tough choices we have to make to get this country moving again.
But more cuts isn't the 'tough' choice, it's the easy choice for the cosy bubble of Westminster politicians currying favour with billionaire tabloid owners. That's why I'll be at the People's Question Time on October 9th and the 'Britain Needs a Pay Rise' march on October 18th. We need a social movement inside and outside of our councils and parliament, to challenge our representatives to step out of their bubble and up to the plate. The real tough choice is to challenge people's assumptions by adopting politics with a heart, politics that cares about and supports everyone in our communities.