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The Tory Mess


There will be a British election in early July, which will almost certainly lead to the Tories being disposed of by large margins:

Rishi Sunak has called a surprise general election for 4 July in a high stakes gamble that will see Keir Starmer try to win power for Labour after 14 years of Conservative-led government.

Addressing the nation outside Downing Street, Sunak said it was “the moment for Britain to choose its future” as he claimed the Tories could be trusted to lead the country during a time of global instability.

The rain-soaked prime minister was almost drowned out by the New Labour anthem, D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better, blasted out by the anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray, as the surprise early election was called.

Sunak’s words were met with alarm by senior Tories who are concerned that their party, trailing 20 percentage points behind Labour in the polls, could face electoral wipeout, with some MPs even considering submitting letters of no confidence.

This is a good time to check out Sam Knight’s article about how disastrous 14 years of Tory rule has been for the UK:

These observations are surely right, but I worry that they obscure two basic truths about Britain’s experience since 2010. The first is that the country has suffered grievously. These have been years of loss and waste. The U.K. has yet to recover from the financial crisis that began in 2008. According to one estimate, the average worker is now fourteen thousand pounds worse off per year than if earnings had continued to rise at pre-crisis rates—it is the worst period for wage growth since the Napoleonic Wars. “Nobody who’s alive and working in the British economy today has ever seen anything like this,” Torsten Bell, the chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, which published the analysis, told the BBC last year. “This is what failure looks like.”

High levels of employment and immigration, coupled with the enduring dynamism of London, mask a national reality of low pay, precarious jobs, and chronic underinvestment. The trains are late. The traffic is bad. The housing market is a joke. “The core problem is easy to observe, but it’s tough to live with,” Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, told me. “It’s just not that productive an economy anymore.”


“Austerity” is now a contested term. Plenty of Conservatives question whether it really happened. So it is worth being clear: between 2010 and 2019, British public spending fell from about forty-one per cent of G.D.P. to thirty-five per cent. The Office of Budget Responsibility, the equivalent of the American Congressional Budget Office, describes what came to be known as Plan A as “one of the biggest deficit reduction programmes seen in any advanced economy since World War II.” Governments across Europe pursued fiscal consolidation, but the British version was distinct for its emphasis on shrinking the state rather than raising taxes.

Like the choice of the word itself, austerity was politically calculated. Huge areas of public spending—on the N.H.S. and education—were nominally maintained. Pensions and international aid became more generous, to show that British compassion was not dead. But protecting some parts of the state meant sacrificing the rest: the courts, the prisons, police budgets, wildlife departments, rural buses, care for the elderly, youth programs, road maintenance, public health, the diplomatic corps.

The combination of severe austerity, Brexit, and extremely tight restriction on housing construction has had predictably disastrous consequences, and the Tories have absolutely no other ideas.

The counterfactual here is what would have happened had Blair — whose domestic policy was actually pretty good — had not made the politically and substantively disastrous decision to collaborate in George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. Labor has never fully recovered, and it’s hard to be particularly optimistic about what a Starmer government would do. But at least there’s pretty much nowhere to go but up.

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