New Prime Minister, same old Tory politics

July 15, 2016 ,

I am old enough to remember when Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. When she did so her first statement seemed to suggest that she would be a unifying, One Nation Prime Minister despite her previous right-wing credentials within the Conservative Party.

She even went so far as to quote Saint Francis of Assisi;

"Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope”

The years that came brought serious discord, error and despair, and the faith Thatcher brought was a compassionless laisse faire capitalism which devastated many communities.

So it was with some scepticism that I listened to the words of the new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May on entering number 10 Downing Street. Perhaps my scepticism will be proved unfounded in practice, but her record in office and her choice of Cabinet Ministers gives little comfort to those thinking that her apparent signalling of a more moderate and consensual politics will be more meaningful than Mrs Thatcher’s proved to be.

The problem with so-called ‘compassionate Conservatism’ is the contrast between rhetoric and reality.

‘Compassionate’ is the rhetoric. ‘Conservative’ is the reality.

In fact there was very little compassion about the way that Theresa May ran her department as Home Secretary. Some of the practices which have been developed in recent years are the opposite of compassionate. For example, it’s no coincidence that there is a spike in the number of deportations of asylum seekers around Christmas when the Home Office knows that many of the agencies who might intervene in order to assist those being deported are less likely to be open. This of course includes the offices of Members of Parliament who often deal with cases of this kind.

Of course it is right that we have a rules based system of immigration and asylum, and inevitably some people whom are not entitled to remain in the United Kingdom will be removed. But the way it has operated under Theresa May as Home Secretary has become less and less compassionate in its nature. On the evidence I see little reason to believe that this will be any different under Theresa May as Prime Minister in other areas of public policy where a dose of discretionary compassion from the State would be welcome.

And the signs are not good when you look at her cabinet appointments. The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox who previously left office in disgrace is a right wing ideologue who makes Donald Trump look like St Francis of Assisi. The trade deals he will make on our behalf will be skewed in the interest of big corporates rather than working people and publicly run services.

He has also previously called for NHS spending to be cut, opposed plans to increase foreign aid spending and has criticised gay marriage as “social engineering”.

David Davis has expressed concerns about the impact of paid maternity and paternity leave as well as action to deliver equal pay for women, criticised ‘green’ targets for the environment and winter fuel payments for the elderly. Can we expect him to defend the social rights currently protected by the EU in our Brexit negotiations?

The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary has been widely ridiculed. He has previously said he wants a different model of healthcare to the NHS, wants to water down our employment rights and give millionaires more tax cuts. He has even used the racial heritage of President Obama to question the US leader's attitude to Britain.

The new International Development Secretary Priti Patel wanted to scrap that department. Andrea Leadsom wants to bring back fox hunting, and has been a climate change sceptic.

This is not the cabinet of someone who genuinely wants British Politics to move to the centre.  It is a cabinet even more right wing than David Cameron’s.  In the coming months Labour needs to expose this and argue for a politics of the centre-left that can provide a credible electoral alternative to the most right wing Government since Margret Thatcher's.