Boris Johnson is deluded if he thinks his legacy will be anything apart from the Covid catastrophe, argues Sean Ledwith
Like all self-centred capitalist politicians, Boris Johnson has got to that stage of his career where he is more concerned about his reputation in the future than actually doing something constructive in the present. A lot of the media commentary about this week’s social care package has been centred on interpreting the measures as Johnson’s bid to carve out an enduring legacy in terms of domestic policy.
The Prime Minister is totally deluded, however, if he thinks his premiership will be remembered for anything else than his calamitous handling of the pandemic. Much of the so-called reforms are premised on fixing the damage inflicted on the health and care sectors by the impact of three waves of Covid over eighteen months. Of course, the Tories will never admit most of that damage is due to the culpability of Johnson and his ministers for repeatedly bungling the management of the crisis.
Build Back Bluster
On his first day in the job two years ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Number Ten and blithely announced that he "will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve". Unsurprisingly this turned out to be the usual hollow bluster from Johnson and there was no plan ready at that time. In the election later that year, the Tory manifesto included a pledge not to raise taxes. This week’s announcement represents yet another Johnson promise going up in smoke.
Fast forward to this week and the government have finally come out from using the pandemic as an excuse for their lack of action in this area. The Build Back Better plan to use hiked National Insurance Contributions as a means to boost spending on health and social care produced squeals of discomfort from the right-wing fringe of the Tory Party and the press, with one Daily Telegraph columnist laughably branding Johnson as the "Cobalt Corbyn" and declaring that "conservatism is dead". If only.
There were rumblings of rebellion on the Tory backbenchers over Johnson’s alleged conversion to the politics of tax and spend but inevitably most of his party rolled over and voted the plans through this week with indecent haste.
It is a mark of how deluded and cut-off from reality sections of the elite have become that they can interpret Johnson’s plan as some form of socialism and the emergence of a Tory version of Blue Labour. The measures he announced will go nowhere near solving the deep-rooted problems of a sector that was blighted by low pay, privatisation and outsourcing before the pandemic, and then ravaged by callous discharging of sick patients back into care homes during the first wave pandemic. Johnson and his party are incapable of understanding the needs of a sector that fundamentally depends on compassion and empathy, two qualities that are totally alien to this generation of Tories.
The Tory plan is a cynical electoral ploy to dump the burden of funding investment in the health and social care sector on young and average-earning workers via a hike in National Insurance Contributions by 1.25% for employees and the same for employers. Kicking in from April next year, this is designed to raise an additional £36 billion over three years, most of which will be funnelled into the NHS to tackle waiting lists with £5 billion earmarked for the care sector. Those waiting lists, of course, were substantially created by Johnson’s repeated failure over the last year and a half to lockdown in time and allow the virus to deflect the NHS from its core services.
The Prime Minister is predictably vague when asked how much and by when we can expect those waiting lists to come down significantly. One estimate suggests it could take up to nine years to clear the backlog-and that is assuming there is not another surge of the virus this autumn and winter.
The £5 billion for care is pitifully inadequate for a sector that according to the Health Foundation needs at least £12 billion to patch up years of underinvestment. One cruel irony of the changes is that underpaid workers in sectors such as care homes will be the ones who will carry the brunt of the NI hike. Inevitably, the Tories have no interest in going after the super-rich, many of whom saw their wealth increase over £100 billion in the last year. Nor does the notion of scaling back Britain’s military expenditure and diverting it into something useful ever occur to the Tories. What is the justification for squandering £200 billion on Trident when the most vulnerable in our society are languishing in fear and poverty?
Autumn of austerity
The other element of Build Back Better is the cap on personal care liabilities of £86 000. With house prices in the poorer parts of the UK hovering round about £160 00, and sometimes lower, that is still a huge chunk of personal assets being gobbled up by the cost of care. This cap does not apply to autumn 2023 and therefore does address the immediate crisis. Johnson’s plan is being launched alongside the abandonment of the triple lock on pensions (again using Covid as a smokescreen) and the imminent end of both the Universal Credit uplift and the furlough scheme.
Hopefully the real legacy of Boris Johnson will be a renewed determination by the labour movement to ensure never again do we allow the Tories to inflict such damage on the British population.
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