Observant readers of this blog will remember that shortly after retirement and my subsequent move to Wales I decided to become a Labour Party member. Indeed I went one further and voted for Jeremy Corbyn (twice) to become leader, something that may have surprised many who imagined I’d be a lifelong “Tory”.
In fact the only political party I’d ever signed up to formally before was the SDP, which I would characterise as most like New Labour under Blair, but well before he became leader! I’ve never voted Conservative until the most recent local elections when I broke the habit of a lifetime (which was to vote SDP/Liberal Democrat) as I thought Prime Minister May was probably best placed to negotiate with the EU over the done deal that is Brexit.
In recent weeks though I’ve started to doubt my new found support for the “Right” in British politics and wonder if many other voters like me are now having second thoughts. According to the BBC this morning, the latest polls show the Conservative lead over Labour has halved since the start of the election campaign, so the answer is probably “yes”.
I believe that May’s manifesto team have badly miscalculated the impact of ever increasing and expensive student loans on young people, as well potential changes to prescription charges, social care and other state benefits on older voters and have got people questioning about what all this means to them and their families…
Let me explain. Somehow when I was young the UK was rich enough to fund both my university tuition fees and maintenance grant with the understanding that in later life I would reimburse the state with taxes on my (admittedly) rather high earnings. This I did in spades over many years I can assure you dear readers and frankly I didn’t mind doing so for the greater good of the nation.
However in recent years, grants have become loans, which although initially state owned and with low interest rates have been sold off and have had their rates hiked. University Vice Chancellors now on average earn more than the Prime Minster and run huge student accommodation estates which are nothing like the old “hard to let” council flats I rented as a student both in terms of quality (much better) and rent (much higher) which leads to even more debt misery to students.
Maybe too many people are doing degrees compared with my day, I don’t know, but I do remember lots of very talented friends going to Polytechnics on fully funded vocational courses rather than academic studies in Universities such as Astrophysics as taught to yours truly.
I also remember when young adults could afford to buy a house and start a family in their twenties, you’re lucky today if you can do that in your thirties. On the other side of the coin it wasn’t that long ago as a woman you could draw your state pension at 60 years old, which in a relatively short time period has crept up to 66 and may well go higher in the not too distant future. Worse is the increasing scourge of means testing benefits for the old, a very costly way of saving money which undermines the wisdom of saving for an old age. Why not just make winter fuel payments taxable Mrs May? I wonder how long free bus passes etc. And universal state pensions will escape the same fate…
Then of course we have seen over the past decade a continued shrinking of our armed forces at the same time we have asked them to do more and with increasing danger. Where’s the armed forces covenant going forward? What’s the logic of ring fencing overseas aid at 0.7% GDP when we continue to spend money in countries like space and nuclear capable India! Instead of a flat DfID budget that encourages wasteful spend each year we should reserve monies to help immediate and discrete needs such as refugees or famine.
The Conservatives are correct I’m sure in claiming that no government has ever spent more on the NHS and education and they plan to carry on increasing budgets in these areas. I suspect the built up pressure on public services is a direct result of unconstrained immigration from overseen by the Blair/Brown and Cameron/ Clegg governments in recent years as which drove the Brexit vote methinks.
I’m not sure that Teresa May’s soundbite on trusting her leadership Vs. Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit and defence will play that well going forward, unless they appreciate people’s frustrations and change policies that will be unpopular with the wider electorate. They have form in this witness the reversal of increase in the self employed NICs in the last budget.
Ho hum, it will fascinating to see how this plays out on June the 8th, but if the Conservatives do win the battle then “May” well lose the war, as I predict that devolution/independence will continue to make inexorable progress in Scotland, Northern Ireland, as well as here in Wales…
You have been warned!
Red Pete of the Valleys
About three hours after this post PM May announced a U turn on social care during her visit to Wales…