The ‘same old Tories’ label didn’t stick when Labour tried it in May’s elections. But that could change now
这 保守派 are playing with fire. As they begin to cut spending and wage a divisive culture war on race, they risk looking to some voters like the nasty party again.
With some fancy footwork, Rishi Sunak headed off a backbench Tory rebellion which had looked likely to defeat the government’s £4bn cut to overseas aid. The chancellor killed off the internal opposition with kindness, stressing the party’s unity in wanting to restore aid spending to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. But about 25 rebel Tories were bought off very cheaply; the UK is unlikely for some years to meet Sunak’s conditions for ending the cut – when it is not borrowing for day-to-day spending and public debt is falling.
The chancellor deployed the threat of tax rises to strengthen his hand on cuts. 虽然 鲍里斯·约翰逊 is relieved to have avoided a humiliating Commons defeat on aid, Whitehall officials suspect he will be less happy when the chancellor tries to rein in his “spend, spend, spend” instincts during a government-wide spending review this autumn. There will inevitably be some nasty medicine to swallow. Ending the £20-a-week uplift for universal credit will revive memories of George Osborne’s austerity. Some Tory MPs fear Sunak will come up short on funding education catch-up and the NHS. They fear a public backlash over the record 5.3 million waiting list and that delaying the cash injection needed until the eve of the next general election would be too late.
The aid cuts will do real harm. 一些 93 organisations have told the international development select committee they will be hit by the sudden squeeze, disrupting programmes needing certainty for years ahead. Tory rebels believe the cuts will result in 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children, and millions suffering malnutrition.
Just one example: Christian Aid tells me it is ending its peace-building work in South Sudan, which could have “a lethal effect on the chances of a lasting peace.” The charity expects to close a programme to reduce poverty and help the most marginalised people in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. Also at risk is help for the Rohingya in Bangladesh and projects in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Malawi.
True, aid offers the only popular spending cut, supported by two in three people. 但, when combined with unpalatable austerity measures and the self-made culture war, it sends a signal the Tories are relaxed about losing the support of liberal-minded voters. Their defeat at the Chesham and Amersham by-election is a reminder they still need such voters in their blue wall in the south.
Andrew Mitchell, who led the Tory revolt over aid cuts, 说: “We had made clear to centre-left liberal voters that the Conservative Party was safe for them because of our very strong support for international development and our world leadership on that. There will be many who will be very disappointed we have broken our promise on the 0.7 per cent and I do think it will rebound against our party… The Tory Party wins a majority and is successful when it is the broadest possible coalition. If you start cutting out the key DNA that makes the Tory Party what it is, the party will suffer.”
Some Downing Street aides, including the policy unit head Munira Mirza, believe the culture war will lock in red wall voters as Brexit fades as an issue. But it has boomeranged on the government because of Priti Patel’s foolish decision to accuse England footballers of “gesture politics” for taking the knee. The home secretary picked a fight she couldn’t win. It wasn’t that her opponents were popular; it looked as though she did not support their stand against racism. Tory MPs like Steve Baker, normally seen as a hardman of the party’s right, are rightly warning the government it is on the wrong side of the argument on taking the knee.
Johnson’s government has form. Its review of racial disparities, rigged by Number 10, concluded there is no systemic racism in Britain today. Try telling that to Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. The racial abuse they suffered was predictable and predicted. The former England player John Barnes told the BBC’s Newsnight programme two weeks ago: “If they [black players] make a mistake or miss a penalty… they will get a harder time than the white players. And that has been happening for years.”
The “same old Tories” label didn’t stick when Labour tried it in May’s elections. But that could change now. It is good that Keir Starmer, who tried but failed to avoid the culture war, is now fighting back after Patel gave him an open goal. The lesson for Johnson: if you pick fights, you can get hurt.