THE current spectacle of Tory internal warfare tends to contradict the popular saying that “there is honour among thieves.”
For thieves they certainly are, albeit publicly licensed ones, having stolen from working-class people, and indeed the nation as a whole, to the benefit of the big corporations and the very wealthy in our society.
Public-sector workers have had a pay cut, through increased pension contributions and below-inflation pay increases. Billions of pounds are still being taken out of local government services that people need. Student fees for university courses have been massively jacked up. State assets have been flogged off at well below their value.
The NHS is being privatised by stealth.
The full scale of this robbery has been largely hidden from the public view. But now the thieves are falling out with a “Not me, gov,” because on one issue they have been caught red-handed.
The trigger was George Osborne’s statement, in his Budget speech, that Iain Duncan Smith had “set out changes that will ensure that within the rising disability budget, support is better targeted at those who need it most.” For that, read much harsher rules on who qualifies for personal independence payments (PIP). This has been government policy for some time, along with the cuts to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and affects 640,000 people.
Already, many Tory MPs have been targeted in Facebook campaigns for voting for the £30 per week cut in ESA.
Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) has been running a successful online parliamentary petition to get those cuts reversed, while also campaigning to get disability charities to break links with MPs who voted for them — including one David Cameron himself.
Osborne must have been aware just how unpopular a further attack on the disabled would be. But the Treasury regards the Department for Work and Pensions as a milch cow for Budget cuts. Osborne’s statement was therefore a clear attempt to lay blame for the latest attack on IDS, whose credibility he wanted to undermine, due to his prominent position in the Leave campaign over the EU.
Osborne would have known that Labour would oppose the measure. He must also have been aware that there would be hostility to it from within the Tory ranks. Perhaps he always calculated on rescinding the change — as has now happened — in order to make IDS’s position untenable.
What has actually happened, however, is that it is Osborne’s reputation that has been damaged. The government has had to give even more concessions, agreeing to Labour amendments to abolish the “tampon tax” and to cancel the VAT rise on solar panels. Had they not, there would have been the first government defeats in a Budget debate since 1994. Osborne’s Budget is therefore in chaos. He cannot say how he is going to fill the hole in it, let alone achieve his fantasy £10 billion surplus by 2021. Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell was absolutely right to demand that Osborne come to Parliament to answer his urgent question on that matter. But Osborne is running scared, and he made Treasury Financial Secretary David Gauke take the heat instead.
Cameron himself is too close to Osborne to sack him. But many Tory MPs think there will be a leadership election whatever the result of the EU referendum, leading, as one predicts, to a “genocide of the Cameroons and Osbornites.” That’s not enough. Now is the time for the Labour Party and the trade union movement to go on the offensive, to force this rotten government out of office well before its formal sell-by date of 2020.