Theresa May has managed to deliver on the rhetoric of social justice while the Labour Party has been stagnated by internal fighting. This lack of opposition means that she’s been largely able to say what she likes, whilst delivering exactly the opposite. Her promises of delivering social justice are already being broken and yet the Tories are managing to convince the country that they are the party for the people, while Labour seem interested only in their egos.
However, May’s plans deserve scrutiny because what lies behind her rhetoric is not social justice, but a commitment to ensuring that power stays among the privileged. May set the benchmark for her spin from the very moment she announced that she would be Prime Minister.
…That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.
If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than you are if you’re white.
If you’re a white working class boy, you’re less likely than anyone else in Britain to go to university.
If you’re at a state school you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.
If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.
If you suffer from mental health problems there’s not enough help to hand.
If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to earn your own home.
May’s rhetoric was carefully chosen to present the Tories as the ones who really had the intersectional approach. May did not just highlight the old focus of Labour that was class, but also on racial inequality. However, even that was disingenuous.
May felt compelled to mention the plight of white working class young men immediately after mentioning how racial inequality and prejudice is harming young men of colour. It was a tactic that tried to show the right that she wasn’t completely lost to what they often deem ‘PC’ causes. Any mention of racial inequality by the right is often met with a loud chorus of ‘but what about white people?’, and to placate this May balanced her speech carefully, but it was also a lie.
White working class men do struggle to get into university (although she conveniently forgot to mention that the university fees raised by the Coalition bears some responsibility), but they are not the least likely of all of those in Britain. Refugees are even less likely and homeless young people (who are disproportionately made up of LGBTQ+ people) have almost zero chance at all. This lie, or perhaps poor fact checking if one wishes to be generous, was a key tactic. She wanted to show the right that to her #AllLivesMatter and not just black lives. It was an attempt to try to placate a community, and not to commit to delivering justice.
Her own record on delivering on equality has been undeniably poor. In 2013, she voted against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste. On the same day, May also voted to remove the duty on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to work to support the development of a society where people’s potential to achieve is not limited by prejudice or discrimination, as well removing the duty to work to respect human rights.
Her past has never been an indicator then that she will deliver on equality issues. Her party’s record is as poor as her own on a wave of the issues she specifically targeted in her first speech as Prime Minister.
Not only have the Tories been directly responsible for the issue of inaccessible higher education, but they’ve also contributed to a range of the issues May mentioned. Since 2010, the Coalition government reduced spending on mental health services by 8%. This has received critical attention as the shortage of beds for mental health patients has meant that in 2015 alone, more than 5400 patients had to travel out of their area for a psychiatric bed. This had rocketed by 13% from the previous year, signalling that the crisis in mental health services is showing no signs of abating. Yet May has offered nothing to address this crisis.
May’s initial speech also targeted young people, highlighting issues around university and home ownership in particular, but again she failed to acknowledge how Tory policies made this far worse. May herself voted against guaranteeing jobs for young people and she’s also voted against raising welfare in line with prices and inflation. If young people are priced out of learning, if May refuses to support them to earn and if social security is woefully inadequate then what are young people supposed to do? How are they ever going to be able to meet monthly costs, yet alone save to buy a home?
Her plan for grammar schools is simply going to widen the gap between rich and poor. There is zero evidence that grammar schools increase social mobility. Even her MPs are start to circle at this new policy plan, with Dr Wollaston highlighting how this policy is not backed up by evidence.
The education system has seen enough confusing changes since 2010, with the opening up of free schools and introduction of academies and both of which were ideas that have drawn criticism over the years. Teacher strikes have become almost as frequently talked about as the junior doctor strikes and many will be shaking their heads at yet another system shake up that seems set to harm the aspirations and equality of opportunity for young people.
The fact is that May has been reluctant to ever offer support to anyone who needs it. The introduction of grammar schools is yet another plan from the same old nostalgic sentiment that brought us the fiasco of Brexit. There’s more dogma than evidence behind it.
It’s much the same style as has gripped the Tory attitudes towards healthcare. The Tories have dug their heels in, insisting that Hunt’s reforms have consistently delivered and May has indicated her commitment to him and highlighted the importance of health to judging her time as Prime Minister and still she has been shown consistently to be hiding behind spin.
She may have linked the disparities of good health between rich and poor but it’s also something that the Conservative Party had deliberately contributed to. The North East, one of the poorest regions in the UK, has had its healthcare funding diverted to other areas (predominantly southern). The funding for the NHS in the North East has caused deep concern as it was found to have a £960 million “black hole“.
Sunderland, has drawn much criticism for its support of Brexit but in 2015 alone it faced cuts in its NHS of £1.5 million. It’s a city that already has poor NHS coverage, with walk in centres closed in recent years and major chronic issues such as obesity, alcohol related deaths and illness from historic heavy industry yet the promise by Brexit leaders of £350 million for the NHS would obviously be enticing to areas being disproportionately hit by Tory cuts. Health funding has not been delivered based on need under the Tories, but based on the make up of voters.
The theme of punishing voters has seeped beyond healthcare and into May’s record on social security.
Disabled people, young people and/or those who are unemployed or underpaid have traditionally been Labour voters. It’s easy to target them for cuts as it suits right wing voters. It’s a Labour area and they’ll be the ones losing votes to UKIP with this demographic that has never really been a core of the Tories.
May is trying to make the idea that anyone can thrive as part of her core message though. The problem is this stems from the myth that anyone can work but this simply isn’t true. The result is that thousands are being left to languish in poverty with little to no support. Some people just can’t get on in life.
The other issue is that May isn’t even managing to appeal to her right. A vital element of this tactic would be to create jobs or something to at least force upon those in poverty (such as Workfare) to try to tackle the pernicious myth of the deserving and undeserving poor. Her rhetoric of progressive politics, which for years Cameron hid his harshest policies behind, is failing because the country is stagnating.
One of the first decisions that May took was to delay development to the Hinkley Point nuclear plant. Her credibility as a pro-business leader immediately took a hit from this decision. May’s also struggled to come up with any trade guarantees at all during Brexit discussions. The first impressions of May as Prime Minister isn’t of a leader that is investing and willing to create jobs, but one that’s taking away opportunity and support and offering nothing in return.
May set herself a high target when she announced that she would lead the country. She managed to gain popularity by appealing to those that Labour had forgotten about during their endless squabbling but it was through deceit and falsehoods. The Tory vision hasn’t changed. They’re offering up failed policies of the past and old dogma on how Britain can be great, without truly addressing any of the issues that have gripped the country. May might well talk inclusion better than a lot of Labour MPs at the minute, but it’s time her record and policies were held to account.
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