Now we turn to the economic and social crisis

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My column in today‘s local papers:

As we emerge from the commemoration of the late Queen Elizabeth, our attention returns to the dire economic and social crisis which months of a zombie government has only made worse.

The Queen survived just long enough to see the back of Boris Johnson, who insulted her by presiding over law-breaking parties while she mourned her husband. But she then had to swear in Liz Truss, whose shrill, publicity-seeking persona is such a contrast to hers, despite their common first name. Truss even wanted to cash in on the new King’s tour of the UK nations, until it was pointed out that making it political would bring the monarchy into disrepute.

Certainly, Truss has capped energy costs. But at a massive £2500 a year for an average household – £529 more than we’re currently paying and more than twice what we paid 12 months ago – more people will join those already in hardship. A windfall tax (on the extraordinary excess profits that energy companies are currently making from our excess bills) would have enabled her to freeze them at the current level, as the opposition proposed. Instead she’s gone for another big increase on 1st October. Truss once worked for Shell and she has advisers who worked for BP; it seems she cares more about their balance sheets than the finances of ordinary households.

On top of forcing us to continue paying excessive sums each month to the energy firms, Truss is giving tax cuts to the rich and big corporations, and lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses which are already at ultra-high levels. Borrowing in order to hand extra money to corporations – who are not even asking for a cut – and  wealthy individuals – who will save much of it instead of putting it into their local economy – is madness now the UK is in recession and small businesses are already closing down. 

Any borrowing should be to support the health service, social care, schools and other public services. You can’t rely on the ambulance service (it’s worse in the South West than anywhere else), people are being forced to pay privately for operations, and tens of thousands of people are even dying because the NHS is so run down. With this backdrop, how dare Truss give handouts to those who don’t need them?

The energy crisis also shows that the chickens are coming home to roost from the Conservatives failure to secure a low-carbon energy future. They blocked offshore wind farms, like the proposal for Lyme Bay (I’ve seen the one off the Sussex coast, and it’s hardly the blot on the landscape that they claimed). They’re still blocking onshore wind turbines, the quickest, cheapest and least environmentally harmful way to improve our power supply. They scrapped schemes to support home insulation and solar power on roofs, so that you often can’t find a firm to install them even if you want to.

After a decade heading in a far right direction, the Tories have managed to find a leader who is even more extreme, who has promoted a notorious climate denier, Somerset MP Jacob Rees Mogg, to manage energy policy. Truss is backing fracking, which even her new Chancellor agrees won’t deliver significant energy for the UK, and hyping nuclear power, which may have a role to play but will take many years to make a difference. It’s almost as though she is trying to annoy people who care about the environment. Thought things couldn’t get worse after Johnson? Think again.

***

A local footnote to the story of inadequate government support for public services. This has now forced Conservative-run Devon County Council into a severe financial crisis, so it is increasing parking charges to help with its deficit. Yet recently local Tories berated East Devon District Council’s modest parking rises, forced by similar financial pressures. Will they now apologise for their ill-judged campaign?  

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