THE BLOG
13/10/2015 06:19 BST | Updated 12/10/2016 06:12 BST

The Equality of Tory Attacks - From Miners to Doctors, Lawyers and Refugees

The Conservative Party is often represented as antagonistic towards the 'working class'. Memories of blood-splattered striking miners and descriptions of the impact of tax credit cuts on struggling families are routinely used to illustrate this representation.

The Conservative Party is often represented as antagonistic towards the 'working class'. Memories of blood-splattered striking miners and descriptions of the impact of tax credit cuts on struggling families are routinely used to illustrate this representation.

It is easy to see how people come to the conclusion that Tory politics is a class war, holding those at the bottom where they are, while strengthening the position of those at the 'top'. Even policies presented as egalitarian, such as the stock market floatation of state assets like British Gas and Royal Mail, has ultimately taken resources from the masses and put them into the hands of the 'elite'.

It is highly questionable, also, that the mass sale of council houses benefited those in most need of social housing.

Nevertheless, there have been incidences in recent years where the Conservatives have directly attacked or antagonised so-called 'elite' groups. The conflict between Jeremy Hunt and doctors is one such case. In the absence of Hunt's ability to magic up the thousands of doctors and nurses required to stretch already stretched services, Hunt is simply cutting enhanced rates for unsociable hours. As a consequence, we can expect longer opening clinical services, with fewer - but more frazzled - staff on duty.

The Tories may be hoping that less well-paid members of the public won't have empathy for the doctors' predicament, but this may prove wrong. Anyone who has needed the services of a doctor in the middle of the night will appreciate the value of having one who hasn't worked 90 hours before taking a sharp implement to you or a loved one. Many will see an attack on doctors as an attack on OUR health service - and therefore our families' health.

The Tories have also, over the last couple of years, managed to unleash the usually well-hidden wrath of solicitors and barristers, leading to surreal scenes of wigged-up striking QCs on the streets clutching banners. Just as with the doctors, the most superficial coverage has implied that they were taking industrial action as a result of personal greed. In reality, most people would appreciate that cuts to legal aid have a much greater impact on the poorest than anyone else. And an attack on fair access to justice is an attack on justice itself.

This week a broad spectrum of lawyers have embarrassed the government by suggesting it is failing refugees. A 343 signatory letter, signed by retired judges, barristers, law academics and solicitors, calls for "an urgent, humane and effective governmental response to the refugee crisis".

The letter, which was published here and by The Times and The Guardian, states: "We believe that, as a matter of urgency the UK should take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it. The UK's present offer is deeply inadequate: in Lebanon alone, a country of 5 million, there are 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees."

It also states: "We consider that the UK Government's offer to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East, spread over 5 years, is too low, too slow and too narrow."

The signatories, which include former president of the Supreme Court Lord Phillips and three other former law lords, call for the establishment of safe and legal routes to EU countries, to halt the hazardous boat travel which has claimed many lives. They also call for safe routes within the EU to be established.

The letter states: "International refugee law developed following the horrors of the Second World War because states, including the United Kingdom, recognised that people fleeing persecution have a moral and legal entitlement to protection. But many member states of the European Union, including the UK, make it impossible for people to gain access to these rights by normal means of travel. They require regular visas conditioned on an early return home. There is no such thing at present as a visa for travel from refugee-producing countries such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan, permitting entry in order to claim asylum.

"This situation, coupled with draconian penalties on airlines and ships which carry undocumented passengers, including those fleeing persecution, has created the conditions which drive individuals and families into the hands of people-smugglers, with unseaworthy and overloaded boats or suffocating lorries."

The signatories state that the EU's 'Dublin' system, which compels asylum-seekers to apply to the first member state they get to, is "dysfunctional" and point out the inadequacy of member states on the periphery of the EU to receive asylum-seekers at the level required.

Minister for Syrian Refugees Richard Harrington said Britain has been "at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria". Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Germany could take issue with this.

Despite the fantasies of those who imagine Britain to be 'swamped', most Syrian refugees do not go to Europe. A reasonable estimate is that between 10 and 15 percent of Syrian refugees have come to Europe, and very few of those have come to the UK. While it might be lovely to believe that the UK is so wonderful that everyone in the world wishes to come here, this is far from the truth.

On the surface the Tories have come some distance since the 1980s. In the absence of large groups of unionised miners, they find themselves in battles with barristers, doctors, retired judges and students. However, the practice of playing different sections of society off against one another - such as NHS patients and doctors or refugees and anxious little Englanders - continues.