We are ten months away from the most important general election for a generation. If David Cameron’s Conservatives win, the fabric of our country will change so dramatically that progressive politics may never be able to fully repair the social and economic contract which has bound Britain together for much of the last 100 years. That isn’t hyperbole, it is a cold-eyed assessment of the malign ambition that the modern Tory party has for Britain, and of the duty we have to stop them. Ten months to go, ten predictions of life under a future Tory government, ten reasons we have to win.
- The end of a truly National NHS in England. The commercial incentives introduced into the English NHS under the Tories will slowly, but surely break up the NHS for England. You only need to look at the front pages of today’s newspapers to see that privatisation is their true objective, with health insurance and profit driven competition their preferred mechanisms for funding and resource allocation. The NHS, conceived and cherished as a beacon of socialised risk and civilised values, will exist in name only.
- Insecurity and injustice at work will only increase. The Tories believe more than ever that the right response when faced with challenges to productivity and growth in our globalised economy is to increase the ‘flexibility’ of our workforce. That’s Tory code for poverty pay, reduced rights for employees and a stronger hand for their bosses, zero-hours, forced self-employment, outsourcing and off-shoring. Just ask their business adviser, Adrian Beecroft, he doesn’t even try to hide it.
- The gap between London and the rest of the UK will continue to grow. Ours is already a two-speed, two-nation economy and no other developed country has such a gulf between the economic output of the capital and its other major cities and regions. That chasm has opened wider still under the Tories, forced apart with measures like Help to Buy and the disproportionate cuts to councils and countries in the Midlands, the North and the West. Closing this gap requires a long-term strategy of industrial support from an active government, committed to devolving power and resources from the centre to the regions. Labour supports such a programme, the Tories never will.
- Corporate power and poor practices in The City will go unchallenged. The derivatives market which triggered the crash is being shamelessly revived, one of Britain’s most famous banks is under fresh investigation for trading shares in unregulated ‘dark pools’, tax evasion is fast becoming an art-form, and the bonus culture is back with a vengeance. George Osborne’s response has been to reward corporate hoarding with tax cuts, and to deploy government lawyers to defend fat-cat bonuses. An election win would only encourage him.
- A Tory Britain will slide towards break-up, even when the Scottish referendum is won. The Tories have long since given up on making political inroads in Wales and Scotland and are increasingly interested in our national boundaries only as dividing lines to be exploited. Stand by for more attacks on Labour Wales and the introduction of destructive tax competition between nations and regions as precursor to the introduction of English votes on English laws at Westminster and the carving out of Welsh and Scottish MPs from the business of Britain.
- Isolation, then exit, from Europe beckons. Prodded over the top by his swivel-eyed backbenches, Cameron has already set the Tories en route to the exit door. Instead of acting in the national interest and seeking compromise and reform in EU negotiations, we know this Prime Minister will prioritise personal and party interest, even if it means leaving the common market with incalculable costs for the UK.
- Young people – our most precious commodity – will see dis-investment and disillusion grow. Youth unemployment will persist at unacceptable levels, as the Tories refuse to acknowledge that proper state support and investment is required. A trend of educational elitism will gather pace, as tuition fees grow and state support diminishes and apprenticeships fall back. The dream of owning a home will become unimaginable for many, and social mobility will continue to stall.
- Incompetence, injustice and inefficiency will remain the watchwords of a Tory-run welfare system. Social Security, a prize we once aspired to extend to all in our country, will be further undermined by the corrosive rhetoric of strivers v. skivers and the reality of waste and wilful neglect at the DWP.
Climate change and concern for the environment will be dismissed, catalogued under ‘green crap’. Frack-happy now, the fiction of huskies and green government long forgotten, the next Tory manifesto will contain no promises, to break, about environmental taxes or protection for our planet. Why would it; does anyone really doubt now it was a con-trick all along?
- Inequality will yawn ever wider, as the state shrinks smaller. Regional Pay will be revived. Rents will rise. The Tax system will become flatter and more regressive. The Third Sector, Trades Unions and the Labour Party, those institutions that can offer resistance will be hamstrung and hobbled with gerrymandering intent. The most vulnerable and the poorest will continue to pay: what chance VAT on food and children’s shoes now that spare bedrooms are priced in? And all the while, returns to capital will outstrip wages and growth, entrenching financial privilege and cementing social division.
Ten months to go. Ten reasons why Ed Miliband will win for Britain in 2015.
Owen Smith is Labour MP for Pontypridd and shadow secretary of state for Wales