THERE CAN BE LITTLE DOUBT – post the Brexit vote – that Theresa May’s Conservatives are still the ‘Nasty Party’. Indeed, the team around May at the Home Office, which infamously gave us the ‘Go home’ vans during the election campaign, is now leading government policy.
Since the referendum, the Tories have chosen to make the Brexit vote all about immigration. In doing so they are trying to outdo UKIP in blaming all the country’s ills on migrants, which of course has the added benefit for them of distracting from their own policy failures.
The crisis of NHS funding? Blame foreigners. How will we secure funding for our universities? Blame foreigners. How do we address the crisis of productivity and low wages? Blame foreigners. The litany is as endless as it is nauseating.
We should be clear. The scapegoating agenda is not an agenda which can address the chaos in British society and politics following the referendum. It is an antiforeigner distraction.
During the recent Conservative Party conference some of this thinking came to the fore when Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that companies could be made to publish lists of overseas workers, named and shamed for employing such people, with officials reportedly saying that the plan was intended to “prevent migrants taking jobs British people can do.” Liam Fox meanwhile said that providing any guarantees for existing EU workers would be to “hand over one of our main cards” in Brexit negotiations.
And when it came to the NHS, Jeremy Hunt said he was aiming for “self sufficiency” in UK-trained doctors before the end of the next Parliament. Hunt’s plan is to increase the number of UK-trained doctors by 1,500 per year. There are 100,000 overseas doctors in the UK, according to the General Medical Council.
Simply replacing these would take 66 years. It was the worst example possible of putting a politically toxic agenda ahead of the needs of our economy and public services. It showed the Tories care more about scapegoating foreigners than a well-staffed, properly funded NHS.
But with strong opposition this government can be defeated. One week after their Conference, Theresa May was claiming that Rudd’s remarks on overseas workers had not represented policy. Yet just days before, on October 5th, Rudd told the BBC, “It’s one of the tools we’re going to use as a review to see if we can use it as a way of nudging people to do better behaviour.” When announced, these policies immediately faced a massive backlash, including from a united Labour opposition, business and community leaders.
Like the defeats, U-turns and retreats forced on the government under the first year of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, this was another example of what a strong and united opposition can achieve, especially when united with public opinion. Labour will now put the Tories on the back foot across the board – from fighting to defend our NHS and education system, to challenging their continuing curtailment of civil liberties and, vitally, their scapegoating of vulnerable communities.
We are strongly opposing the government’s failing, ideologically driven austerity policies and the ‘dog-whistle’ politics often being used to distract from, or justify, these policies. As Jeremy Corbyn put it, “Drawing up lists of foreign workers won’t stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain. Shutting the door to international students won’t pay young people’s tuition fee debts, and ditching doctors from abroad won’t cut NHS waiting lists.”
Under Jeremy’s leadership, Labour is articulating an economic alternative to the Tories – based on investing in our future – which can improve living standards and win on the doorstep. May’s leadership of the Tories represents a shift to the right, not the centre ground. In contrast to the Tories, Labour is the party of our public services, of people’s rights and of protecting living standards.
The Tory plans outlined since May has become Prime Minister will continue to damage all three and we will vigorously oppose them all the way.
is shadow Home Secretary