Government failings bringing us down – Martin Shaw

Chair, East Devon Alliance, writes in the Herald:

As the Conservative government disintegrates, they are bringing the country down with them. The shambolic failures of Liz Truss, like Boris Johnson’s lying and cheating, will have serious consequences for people in Devon. Whether or not Truss is still in office when you read this – she is so obviously a disaster that many MPs are actively trying to get rid of her – if this government clings on, we face a grim two years.

The appointment of Jeremy Hunt fills me with foreboding. As Health Secretary, he presided over a long decline in the NHS. It was Hunt’s cuts that led Devon health bosses to close community hospital beds in Axminster, Honiton, Ottery and Seaton, the folly of which became apparent when there was nowhere to send patients when the main hospitals overflowed in the pandemic (and Hunt had shelved the UK’s pandemic plans). Hunt’s aim of selling off ‘surplus’ NHS buildings encouraged managers to dispose of some of the sites, and only community protests stopped this happening.

Hunt’s warning of a new round of ‘efficiency savings’ (spending cuts to you and me) confirms that, as Chancellor, he will be Mr Austerity once again. It is not just the NHS, with chronic staff shortages, a failing ambulance service and 7 million people waiting for operations, which simply cannot be allowed to face new cuts. The vulnerable cannot live without an inflation-matching rise in benefits. Hard-pressed schools cannot cope with declining real funding. Councils desperately need real increases to look after vulnerable children and old people.

Hunt will tell us that there is no alternative (after Truss’s budget has made government borrowing more expensive). But Britain is still a rich country and new resources can be found: close down tax havens; end ‘non-dom’ status; introduce a proper windfall tax on oil and gas firms; tax wealth as well as income; and raise tax well above 45 per cent for the bankers with their bumper bonuses and the other people who receive hundreds of thousands or millions each year.

The truth is that cuts are a political choice from a government which is in denial about the damage it has done. Truss or her successor may drone on about ‘growth’, but she and Hunt have each been ministers while Britain has stagnated over the last 12 years. George Osborne’s austerity took the wind out of the recovery from the financial crisis, just as

Hunt’s threatens to end the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

The biggest harm has come from Brexit, the red-tape bonanza which has strangled trade with the UK’s largest market, sacrificed our farmers, and deprived our NHS of European doctors and nurses. Even some Daily Telegraph writers now accept that the warnings against Brexit were right, but Brexit ideology – of which Truss’s ‘trickle-down’ economics is a part – is now the religion of the Conservative Party. They seem more likely to abolish the monarchy than abandon this failed experiment.

Despite all this, Devon Tories remain in thrall to their leaders. Last week Hugo Swire, the former East Devon MP who bailed out rather than face Claire Wright at the last election, jumped back on the gravy train by taking a seat in the Lords (courtesy of Boris Johnson’s resignation ‘honours’ list), while his successor Simon Jupp accepted a bag-carrier role in Truss’s government. I thought rats were supposed to leave sinking ships!

In this situation, it’s timely that Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat who won June’s by-election, is speaking about his first months as an MP at an open meeting in Axminster Guildhall this Saturday (22nd) at 10.30 am. He will be interviewed by my fellow-columnist Paul Arnott, the Independent East Devon Alliance leader of East Devon District Council. This will be a valuable opportunity for us to discuss the future without Conservative rule, and I very much hope to see readers there.