Tories taking one wrong decision after another - GulfToday

Tories taking one wrong decision after another

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Rishi Sunak (top centre) waves after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest at the party’s headquarters in London. File/AP

Britain marked two events last week, the second anniversary of its divorce from the European Union (Brexit) and 100 days of the premiership of Rishi Sunak. Half a million public servants, backed by the public, celebrated the post-Brexit economic downturn by striking against low wages, high prices, and inflation. Britain’s first prime minister of Indian origin was compelled to fire Iraq-born Nadhim Zahawi, the first chairman of the ruling Conservative Party of Arab background who had fiddled tax payments. Sunak has also been castigated to failing to take action on a host of economic issues and undermined by controversy caused by the misbehaviour of other cabinet colleagues.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have taken one wrong decision after another. They tackled the 2008-09 economic recession with punishing austerity, opted for Brexit in 2016, negotiated a hard Brexit deal, left the EU, took too long to deal with Covid, repeatedly changed leadership, and did not develop effective policies to handle multiple crises.

Under its austerity policy 2010-2019, the government raised taxes and froze government spending by cutting welfare and dismissing thousands of public sector employees with the aim of reducing the budget deficit and national debt. However, this effort was disrupted by the 2016 referendum which mandated Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The British pound immediately lost value, making imports more expensive. Banks and multinational firms based in Britain began to migrate to Europe while skilled non-British workers employed in Britain began to seek jobs elsewhere. Covid intervened, initiating measures to treat the infected and alleviate financial and job losses during the pandemic.

This effort resulted in high taxation, high inflation and culminated a high cost of living crisis. In 2022, the fourth government under Liz Truss renewed austerity by reducing welfare benefits while cutting taxes for high earners. This cost £30 billion in losses and forced Truss to resign after 45 days in office, leaving Sunak in charge. He claims it is his “karma” (fate) to be prime minister at this critical time but he has convinced few that this is true.

The extended period of austerity impoverished Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and prompted underpaid and overworked nurses and hospital staff to strike while low-paid railway workers have mounted repeated stoppages and teachers have been on the march.

Sunak has done nothing to alleviate the NHS crisis although it is estimated that last year 1,000 extra people died every week (not including Covid fatalities), at least half due to delays over treatment or at home because they could not be admitted to hospital.

Since the Brexit deal came into force on January 1st, 2021, tariffs have not been renewed but customs checks, import duties, and health inspections for animal products have slowed and increased the costs of exports to Europe, Britain’s chief market. Before Brexit Britain complained of EU red tape; post-Brexit British businessmen complain of Britain’s own red tape and the ballooning local bureaucracy. London School of Economics researchers estimated that the range of British goods sold in Europe decreased as small exporters withdrew from EU member markets. The British Chambers of Commerce reported that of 1,168 businesses, 77 per cent said sales did not increase or grow after Brexit.

Brexiteers, including Sunak, promised that Britain would replace EU trade with deals elsewhere.

While Australia and New Zealand have concluded new trade agreements with Britain the US has not. The volume of British exports to non-EU countries fell as well as exports to the EU. The Centre for European Reform reported that during the initial 18 months of Brexit. trade was lower by 7 per cent, investment by 11 per cent, and Britain’s GDP had shrunk by 5 per cent, costing the economy £40 billion ($48.4 billion).

Sunak has not taken steps to reverse the decline. Writing in The Guardian last week, Polly Toynbee said his first 100 days “to steady the ship [of state] have left him and his party clinging to a life raft.” Polling within the Conservative party gives him 2.9 per cent approval rating and on the national level Labour, which also has an uninspiring leaderhip, is ahead of Conservatives by 20 per cent.

Toynbee addressed his stance toward the strikers who are systematically disrupting life in Britian while enjoying considerable popular support. He “obstinately” refuses to negotiate with trade and professional unions, making them “the reasonable ones, ready to long as some [pay] raise is on the table...If he thinks he can drive strikers into submission through abject penury, it won’t happen – and if it did, the shame would be on him, and the sympathy with them.”

Economic inequality has soared as the gulf between rich and poor has widened and deepened.

Twenty per cent of Britons, 13.4 million, were living in poverty in 2020-2021; of this number 3.9 million were children and 1.7 million were pensioners, the Joseph Rountree Fund reported. Commentators have said that the situation of British poor is worse than that of the poor in Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania, the EU’s poorest countries.

Polls conducted last month show that 54 per cent of people thought Brexit was wrong against 34 per cent who continue to believe it was the right decision. Young people, who opposed Brexit from the outset, are strongly opposed.

The Financial Times has said that just as Britain was called the “sick man of Europe” when its economy tanked in the 1970, Britain is now the “sick man of the developed world.”

Farid Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post that the International Monetary Fund predicted Britain’s economy will be worse off this year than “all of the world’s major economies — including Russia,” which suffers from US and EU sanctions. His remedy is for Britain to return to the EU, but the EU will think twice about accepting Britain a second time. In 1963 and 1967 French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the Common Market, the precursor to the EU, citing incompatibilities between European and British economies and warned that if Britain entered it would blow up the bloc.

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