Listen to a Conservative Minister of a government spending department as s/he tours TV and Radio stations. Here she is talking of fiscal responsibility, unavoidable austerity, the need to trim down, ‘there is no magic money tree’ and making the contrast with the Labour Party who simply try to ‘spend their way through problems’. In another studio that same Minister is accused of having run down a public service, starved it of resources to the point where the citizen is hurting. Now he talks of how much investment the government has made, special funds here and there, more nurses/police officers/teachers than ever before, year-on-year increases – and so on.
It’s not that ‘all politicians lie’. Maybe some do, maybe it’s often not true. But the Conservative party has to lie. Their interests lie with property-owners and high-earners, with residual concerns for the poor and the disadvantaged. Why else would they be the ‘party of low taxes’? Taxes (once wanton and expensive warfare was out of the equation) are the means we devised for serving collective goals and needs. Income tax is the means we devised for (more or less) equalising the contributions of those who have and those who have not. For the most part, public services (health, education, policing, social services) are for those who cannot afford it and probably need it most. In any rational society the poor and working classes would be calling for more taxes to ensure better services. Why do they so consistently vote Conservative?
The Conservative Party needs those voters to stay in office, and so they have to dissimulate in order to garner votes. They have to lie. The biggest lie of the last 20 years has been the argument that austerity (cutting money for social and welfare programs) is inevitable. George Osborne and David Cameron told the lie with silky aplomb. It has saturated society to the point where it is as obvious as the need to eat.
The problem with ‘Boris’ is that he is an awful liar. His dissimulations are transparent. His is the X-Ray view where we see the inner bare bones of self-interest and miserliness that has always attended Conservative party rule. That 10 Downing Street-ers held serial parties during lock-down while others abided by the rules is damaging, but not nearly so much as what it stands for: revelling self-indulgence and self-interest behind a curtain of public obligation; having values that are independent of the citizenry.
‘Boris’ has blown the gaff. The more subtle, sophisticated ‘Partygate’ was Margaret Thatcher, John Major and George Osborne preaching austerity while transferring massive amounts of cash from public to private sources. That lie. George Osborne’s linking pensions and benefits to the (lower) CPI measure of inflation, while allowing privatised utilities to link price rises to the (higher) RPI measure is a fine example. Pooling business rates cross the country allowed a mechanism for reducing the burden on wealthy (high-rated) business in, say, central London and redistributing the burden across (less wealthy) metropolitan areas – another example of wealth transfer on the QT. ‘Boris’ made such transfers transparent – which, to John Major, must have been excruciating. Like a bull in the proverbial china shop he allowed Covid relief funds to be awarded, mostly, to affluent, Conservative-voting constituencies and away from poorer metropolitan and rural areas. He awarded £bns to friends and associates of Conservative Ministers with no guile or concealment.
There’s no need to be coy about this – and don’t waste time on the philosophy of despair that ‘all politicians lie’. The Conservative Party – notwithstanding its honourable MPs – is a dishonest Party; Labour has the luxury of being the more transparent and honest – because its policies and values coincide with those of working people – higher taxes and more public spending, for a start. And if you find that hard to swallow, look at Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. Like them or loathe them, they were honest about what they planned to do with the economy, about where their values lay – too heist, it turns out. Perhaps honesty (and a media that gave no quarter) was their downfall. Is that why working people vote Conservative? We simply don’t trust honesty.