Ever since they won a small majority in 2015, the Conservatives have struggled to pass further austerity measures. They were forced to abandon planned cuts to tax credits and disability benefits. Philip Hammond dropped the proposed increase in National Insurance on the self-employed just a week after the Budget.
With Parliament newly hung, austerity will all but end. The DUP, who the Conservatives will depend on for their majority, have long opposed aggressive spending cuts. Their manifesto called for the abolition of the “bedroom tax” and the maintenance of universal pensioner benefits and the state pension “triple lock”.
Many Tory MPs are fiscal nimbys, who subscribe to austerity in theory but not in practice. A significant number are resolutely opposed to any measures that further reduce their constituents’ living standards. The damage inflicted on the Conservatives last night will be hailed as a vindication of this stance. Further cuts create too many losers for comfort.
After seven years, Britain has lost patience with austerity. May’s cold insistence to a nurse that there was no “magic money tree” to end the public sector pay cap exemplified the Tories’ predicament. Having deferred George Osborne’s budget surplus target to 2025, much of the impetus behind austerity has already been lost. An ultra-fragile majority, Brexit and the economic downturn will combine to halt it altogether.