British politics has lost its mind. For too long, whether on economics or national security or other domestic issues, the government has forgotten how to think. I don’t mean planning a social media grid for the week or a strategy for dealing with the opposition – or indeed one of the many other strategies that exist everywhere. I mean a grand strategy. A fully considered assessment of what our country might become in the decade ahead and a set of decisions taken in the national interest that flow from that.
Examples of this failure of strategy include calling a referendum on Brexit and a failure to plan for a pandemic emergency, even though experts had been warning government about this for over a decade. It also means, as Rishi Sunak showed on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday, no answers whatsoever to what Brexit will deliver for workers or businesses.
The Budget this week will be the latest example of this lack of vision. Proposals will be announced that attract headlines or retweets, but which fail to deal with the underlying structural problems facing the British economy. Workers and businesses across the country will know this, because they’ll experience the failure of government in their day-to-day lives.
The unemployed young person waiting for her Kickstart job placement to appear will ask what all the Instagram photos of the Chancellor wearing a branded hoodie was all about. The high street shop owner unable to afford to pay a year’s worth of unpaid commercial rents to her demanding landlord will wonder what the point of his retail grant is.
The self-employed mum who recently took parental leave – because that’s what you do when you have babies – will wonder why she continues to be excluded from getting income support just because she’s raising a family.
The 55-year-old man who’s been made redundant from making car parts will wonder who, after all those years of work and paying taxes, is going to help him find a new job in his local area now the main local employer has closed.
The parents who have had to rely on their £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit will be in despair at the prospect of once again not being able to make ends meet, even though they work hard week in, week out.
I could go on and on. These examples are not just the unacceptable experiences of people on the lowest incomes, they’re increasingly affecting traditionally well-paid families too. The discrimination of self-employed workers compared to employed workers for income support, the small business owner, the family with young adults trying to make their start, the well-paid manufacturing worker left stranded.
How do I know that the Budget this week will be a disappointment? In the weekend newspaper briefings, we’re told the Chancellor will use this Budget to show the characteristics of the future British economy – an economy characterised by “nimble vaccine and fintech entrepreneurs“.
I’m a big fan of vaccine and fintech entrepreneurs, but I don’t think that should be the character of the British economy. If this is the best the Conservatives have to offer the British people, then we in the Labour Party have an open goal to aim at.
As Keir Starmer and Anneliese Dodds have said, we’re at a fork in the road: an opportunity to lay the foundations for a new chapter for Britain, or the risk of the Conservatives taking us back to the pre-Covid approach that has been shown to have failed the country.
For all the Instagram photos from the Chancellor and the jazzy Twitter images, I’m sadly confident that the Budget this week will do little to secure our economy in a meaningful way. It will highlight the hollowness of the Conservatives soundbites and a failure to understand how to rebuild Britain.
All of us in the Labour Party have a responsibility to call that out in unison, not least because the shop owner, the mum, the young person, the car parts maker and families right across our country will be watching.