Editor in Chief of Naked Politics
Every Prime Minister is granted the gift of their own “ism”. The policies and more importantly the values that define who they are and their vision for Britain. Blairism could be defined as a strong emphasis on government spending, married with looser regulation, an interventionist approach to foreign policy and strong support for the European Union. Contrastingly, Thatcherism is defined by the belief of the individual, with far less government spending, privatisation, tax cuts and a strong belief in the free market to cultivate a strong economy. Even Cameron (who now feels like a distant memory of political history) can be defined as a more “cuddly”, socially liberal conservative who perused an economic agenda of austerity and significantly reduced public spending.
There’s a degree of overlap between all these ideologies, but they stand on their own as definitive of their time. Our present is defined by brexit and the underlying social and economic reasons that made so many ordinary people want to leave the EU. After the Conservative manifesto launch last week, one thing is clear: Mayism is a complete mess.
“True Conservatism means…a belief not just in society but in the good government can do”. A clear departure from the every-man-for-himself mantra brandished by Conservative hero Margaret Thatcher. At a glance, you could almost mistake Mayism for a socialist ideology. However, the manifesto retains the same traditional fiscal ideas of keeping taxes low, with the juiciest tax cuts for big businesses and the more well off. VAT will remain the same (having beenincreased by 2.5% since 2011) yet corporation tax will continue to fall, meaning the big corporations that have already avoided paying their fair share for years will continue to be rewarded. It doesn’t look like the state will be ambitious enough to further regulate the banking industry, something that has been desperately needed since the 2008 crash. The big banks that the taxpayer spent billions bailing out will remain unchecked and likely to repeat the same mistakes. There are no plans to tax the very richest further either. This is juxtaposed against a controversial policy to have social care paid for by ordinary people’s homes after they die and a heartless policy to take away free school meal lunches. All of this is against a backdrop of a sluggish economy which is on a cliff edge of rising inflation and stagnant wages.
Mayism attempts to retain the label of economic credibility that Conservatives are traditionally fond of attaching to themselves, continuing the narrative that a Labour government would wreck the economy further. But bizarrely, the manifesto is very light on costings. For every amount proposed to be spent, there is almost no detail of why, or how they have arrived at that figure. It’s incredibly vague about the deficit reduction plan, referring only to previous spending plans outlined in last year’s 2016 budget that £21.5 billion worth of savings will be found and a further £3.15 billion in 2019-2020. From where in the public finances they’ll find this money seems unclear.
Even worse, May aims to alienate the UK from it’s largest trading market by ruling out retaining membership of the single market or customs union. The EU has made it clear that anything less than membership of the single market must by definition be a worse deal. There is no point having a single market if a country can just leave it and retain all the benefits with none of the obligations. We have an economy that is nearly 80% based on the services industry and no trade deal in history has ever created barrier-free trade of services, precisely because it requires a single set of laws. May’s approach gives no explanation as to how the services industry (particularly financial services) will cope with dealing with more regulatory barriers. In the long run, we may well see big companies simply move their headquarters overseas and de-invest in the UK. But ordinary SME owners and working people can’t just move overseas, they will have to stay and suffer the economic consequences. And funnily enough, the cost of brexit hasn’t been laid out in the manifesto either. Mayism talks a good game of economic responsibility, but in reality it is devoid of basic economic logic and will hurt the people she claims to be helping.
Lastly, one of the biggest themes of the manifesto is “The Great Meritocracy”. And who can argue with that right? We all want to live in a county where opportunity is available to those who want to work hard and prove they are the best. However, the manifesto still aims to lift the ban on grammar schools and to continue the free schools programme set out by Cameron. There’s no evidence that selective schools extend educational opportunity to poorer children. Creating a huge variety of different schools ultimately diverts educational funding away from the poorer comprehensive schools that really need it, to vacuous vanity projects that will most likely help the children who are from more well off backgrounds.
It’s no wonder Theresa May denies there is even such a thing as Mayism. Mayism is a muddle, riddled with contradictions in an effort to be all things to all people. It tries to seem innovative and forward looking, yet embraces grammar schools and fox hunting, relics of the past. It aims to target the worse off in our society, but struggles to disassociate favouring the big corporations, big businesses and the super rich who have become even more wealthy since the 2008 banking crisis. It tries to be an ideology of economic credibility, whilst tearing the UK out of it’s biggest trading market for ideological reasons. It tries to champion success based on merit, whilst advocating policies statistically proven to have the total opposite effect. Mayism is at best, a surface level appearance of strength, stability and the desire for a fairer society. But when you scratch beneath that surface it’s anything but.