Theresa May’s Poundland Thatcher isn’t convincing anyone, argues Lindsey German
I'm struggling to understand the spin put on the Tory manifesto by the media. Which is that this is Red Toryism, helping the working class while making the better off pay. I know everything is relative, but really.
I feel this particularly about two issues: firstly, the scrapping of primary school free meals, which is on a par with Margaret Thatcher's first claim to fame, when she took free milk from schoolchildren back in the 70s. Actually, it's worse because in the 70s the economy was still growing, levels of poverty and inequality were falling, and working people were becoming better off. Today, she has committed to this policy in a situation of mass child poverty, of stories of children going hungry during school holidays when they don't get free meals, and where inequality has gone through the roof.
The second and even more appalling policy is that of making people pay more for social care. Most people who own their own homes do not have much wealth or capital. The average house price in Britain is £200,000. Under Tory proposals, this means that anyone who has a house worth more than £100,000 will have to pay for all of the extra cost of social care. It is effectively a transfer of wealth to government and big banks, away from the very small amounts of wealth which people who are owner occupiers have. As Robert Peston said on ITV news last night, this is effectively a tax rise. And a very regressive one too. It's also nationalisation of people's homes at a time when the Tories deny that nationalisation of big business can happen.
One of the ways in which governments encouraged owner occupation in the past was to say that, while it might involve higher costs in current spending than council rents, it would result in 'ownership' and 'security' eventually. No one said to them, we will take this house from you when you die.
Neither of these policies can remotely be described as left wing or progressive. What they seek to do is turn the very poorest against the slightly less poor, and pretend that the latter are well off or wealthy. No one should fall for this. Labour's plan to tax those on 80k plus would affect the top 5% of earners. This will affect those on some of the lowest incomes, who are supposedly well off because they bought a house 30 or 40 years ago.
I must say I can't see these policies helping the Tories to get votes. I already hear anecdotally a lot of anger about the social care question, and about the taking of food from young children. So I don't see this manifesto giving them a boost.
May and her advisers are attacking pensions, savings, wages - because they will raise tax and national insurance - and education. They calculate that their lead in the polls is sufficient to get them elected and better to stick all this in the manifesto so they can claim a mandate.
The established wisdom is that the polls won't change in a few weeks. But we all know that there are sometimes events which have a shock effect on public opinion. This might just be one of them - and not in the way May wants.
Polls – why they rely on middle class and affluent
I always hesitate to say too much on the polls. I don’t always believe them, but at the same time don’t think they are totally wrong. I’m not a psephologist, so don’t pretend to be a great expert on different methodologies, the effect of asking differently worded questions, the reliability of answers to particular questions. I also think we have to be careful about using different polls selectively, and to bear in mind that any such lead that the Tories have now will be hard to totally overcome. That said, I would like to make a couple of points bout the polls here.
Firstly, they are a political intervention, and the people who run them are highly political people (usually in the centre ground of politics). So it's not like they're testing washing powder. They are asking specific and often slanted questions, and they have a whole set of assumptions about how people will respond and what those responses mean.
Secondly, this political intervention means something. If you are told week after week that the Tories are bound to win the election and that Labour is bound to lose, this has an effect on psychology, on people’s willingness to organise and mobilise, depending on whether they think it is unnecessary, or hopeless (both demobilisers) or that they think there is a fighting chance.
So the headlines matter, and it is here that I have a gripe with the polls. Because their questions are only the start. They then ‘weight’ the polls to take into account past behaviour – how certain groups are to vote, whether one group should be over or under-represented and so on. Dr Jonathan Birch of the LSE wrote a letter to the Guardian abut this, concerned that the polls kept under-representing young and working class people. The reply from the chair of Comres poll company was a classic of its kind.
‘For example, if an affluent, university-educated 65-year-old tells us they are absolutely certain to vote, then their propensity to vote tends to be greater than that of a low-income, secondary educated 25-year-old making the same claim.’
I find this quite staggering. What it says is that the older middle classes will be believed above the young working classes when it comes to the polling companies recording their views. So the polls are slanted towards the more conservative sections of society, based purely on past behaviour. I guess this is how they missed the Brexit vote, because it involved a higher turnout of working-class people.
Wouldn’t the whole thing be a little more ethical if they published unweighted and weighted scores so that you could see what people actually said this time, rather than what they did last time?
Theresa May attracts demos, Corbyn attracts crowds
Has Theresa May been out in the open enough to attract anything that could pass for a crowd? I don’t mean the splendid woman who confronted her in Abingdon over cuts to benefits. She looked to be in the normal kind of crush you get in any market or town square. I mean a crowd where people turn up to hear her, want to listen to what she has to say, and that she actually engages with. No. me neither. I’m not sure that she could stand the shock of actual democratic debate. What she does attract is demos, another very spirited one at her manifesto launch. Unlike that Jeremy Corbyn, who is so unpopular that there are no demos, and crowds flock to hear him wherever he goes. A puzzle.
On this, congratulations to everyone who demonstrated in Halifax yesterday. It's so important to show that there is opposition to this vicious Tory government.
Don't vote for war
The overnight news that US planes have attacked a pro-government militia in Syria shows further escalation of war under Donald Trump. May and Michael Fallon are itching to support him in every way that they can. This is as Trump visits that beacon of democracy and key ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, which is urging war with Iran. The Saudis are involved in a bloody war in Yemen, where they are bombing the main port bringing food and aid. Already a humanitarian disaster, this will lead to man-made famine. All in the name of civilisation.
Don't vote for this.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Last orders for Johnson – weekly briefing
- Covid, corruption and class struggle: ten pointers for 2022 – weekly briefing
- Is BoJo about to go-go? – weekly briefing
- Ten Marxist classics for Xmas
- The ghost of Christmas parties past – weekly briefing
- Nothing to Lose but Our Chains: Work and Resistance in Twenty-First-Century Britain - book review
- Johnson: who is that unmasked man? – weekly briefing