Now that both the Tory and Labour manifestos are out there for people to read, the stark contrast between the two parties is undeniable. Labour is seeking to tackle issues affecting our communities at their roots, whilst the Conservatives have barely anything to offer beyond platitudes. Boris Johnson claims that social democratic policies are suffocating our personal freedoms, but we know that this freedom is a con: it exists only for the rich and powerful who continue to oppress the rest of us.
A free-market, hands-off approach is woven through the Conservative Party manifesto, promising little state intervention to drive change. This is not just about taxes or investment. It also extends to the relationship that the government maintains with businesses.
The Tories have failed to set out proposals for legislation that would actively force businesses’ hands to act in the interest of the people. It essentially trusts businesses to do what is the right thing without the government having to mandate them. The problem with this assumption is that corporations are driven by the profit motive – a desire to increase profit regardless of the impact that this has on the environment or people’s mental and physical health or living conditions. This is why we see our planet plundered for resources, flooded with waste, and workers exploited.
The Conservatives will not tackle the underlying issues we face – linked to the exploitative nature of our capitalist economy – because they are representing the interests of the ruling elites. Rather than take to task those who sit in boardrooms making the decisions that have gotten us into this mess, the Conservative ideology pushes blame onto the most vulnerable.
In the case of preventable diseases, for example, the Tory manifesto talks about “empowering lifestyle changes”, without demonstrating any understanding of the socio-economic factors that might drive “risk factors” such as obesity. The party does not question why so many people in Britain have no or limited access to fresh, healthy food. The Conservatives have no interest in understanding that overworked people on low wages have less time or lack the finances needed for exercising. It is not because they are lazy.
Fundamentally, the nature of our economy is what makes it harder for working-class people to look after their health in the same way that those on high wages can. It’s not the normal worker who has the flexibility to take some time out of their day to go to a lunchtime gym class – it’s the executive and managerial level employees who have the freedom to do so. Likewise, overworked, exhausted people rely on convenience culture of (often unhealthy) microwavable or takeaway food. And convenience culture has a knock-on effect on climate change, producing more non-recyclable waste. Any policy measures to “empower lifestyle changes” are useless if they do not start from the premise that everyone deserves a decent wage and affordable housing without being asked to work every available hour of the day.
This also illustrates why the fight for flexible working from day one and a four-day week is so important. It can mark the start of a political movement in which we reclaim our leisure time from our bosses who expect us to work for them at any cost, regardless of what it means for our health and wellbeing or the planet. And we must always remember this flexibility is not utopian – it already exists for those at the top.
The unwillingness to challenge elites is evident in the Tory reluctance to raise money through taxation to increase public spending, which means that revenue for investment must come from somewhere else. And again, the Conservatives are turning on workers: at the same time as the government needs to recruit overseas workers to combat the shortage of doctors and nurses, immigrants will be charged twice to access the NHS – once through their National Insurance and tax contribution, then again through a health surcharge. An extension and increase of the health surcharge means that those who were asked to come here to staff our public services will be penalised for using them.
The Conservative Party will never restrict the freedom of corporations and those at the top of the economy to wreak havoc on communities in the interest of profit maximisation. Only a Labour government can start to unravel these power relations, which is the only way towards a path of true liberation.