The Toryfication of Labour and the ever rightward drift of British politics

On Saturday, as thousands demonstrated in the street outside his constituency office in protest against his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and to unequivocally condemn the war crimes currently being committed by the Israeli armed forces against Palestinian civilians, the Labour leader Keir Starmer unapologetically tweeted: “I changed the Labour Party and if I’m given the opportunity, I’ll change the country too.”

Yes, indeed. Keir Starmer has changed the Labour party, he has changed it into the Conservatives. Starmer’s Labour party occupies approximately the same political space as that which was occupied by the Tories a few years ago. Labour is now an overtly Anglo-British nationalist party which wraps itself in the British flag, opposes rejoining the EU, denies the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future, supports privatisation in the NHS, and heaps more misery on the poor and the marginalised.

During a recent episode of the i newspaper podcast, Labour’s Plan For Power, Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary said that far from protecting the NHS in England from the creeping privatisation it has endured under the Conservatives, he wants to speed the process up and increase private sector involvement in the provision of healthcare on the NHS. Streeting said he would he would “hold the door wide open” to the NHS for the private sector if the Labour party was to win the general election.

Streeting said that NHS England had “started to move in the right direction” by increasing the amount of private sector involvement in healthcare delivery, but he wanted to see a Labour government “put our foot on the accelerator”.

We always knew that the NHS was not safe in the Conservatives’ hands. Now we know it’s not safe in the hands of Keir Starmer’s Labour party either. Labour will speed up the erosion in England of the core ethos of the founders of the NHS. Although the NHS in Scotland is devolved, Scottish Government funding is based upon the block grant from Westminster. Decisions that the Westminster government makes about how it funds NHS England ultimately determine how much cash is granted via the Barnett Formula as the component of the Scottish block grant nominally allocated to spending on the health service in Scotland.

So it matters to Scotland when Labour’s Shadow health secretary announces that he is determined to increase the amount of private sector involvement in NHS England, not only does this potentially have an impact on the total amount of the Scottish block grant and the funds that the Scottish Government has available for spending on NHS Scotland, it also increases the political and media pressure on Scotland to adopt a similar model, putting at risk the cherished principle that health service provision in Scotland should remain in public hands. Despite what the Scottish media and the British nationalist parties might have you believe, the NHS in Scotland consistently out performs its counterparts in Conservative run England and Labour run Wales.

Last week, the Tories announced that they are going to make the already difficult lives of those struggling to survive on benefits even more difficult in order to find extra cash which they plan to use for tax cuts for those who are already comfortably off. The plan is not to raise benefits by the rate of inflation, which is an effective cut in the already inadequate money that claimants have to subsist on. However to heap on the cruelty even further, it was also reported that the government plans to stop the current entitlement of means tested benefits claimants in England to free prescriptions and dental treatment.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said the move, which is part of a wider back to work plan expected to be unveiled in next week’s autumn statement, is necessary to stop “anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers.”

This is an unspeakably vile and nasty move. Even former Tory Deputy PM Michael Heseltine has accused the Conservative government of fuelling ‘hate politics’ over its plan to strip the jobless of their entitlement to free prescriptions. It’s a measure which holds people’s health to ransom. Heseltine said ministers should not “use the health service as a sanction.”

Former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell also spoke out against the plan, saying that all governments face the difficult question of who should receive benefits, “but making a virtue of withdrawing healthcare support from people who by implication need it is deliberately unpleasant”.

Poverty has a major impact on health, people struggling to survive on the destitution levels typically have worse health and suffer higher levels of illness than those living comfortable lives. The Conservatives propose to deal with this by denying the unemployed access to vital medications and leaving them to suffer the agonies of toothache.

You might think that the Labour party would be loudly condemning this egregious cruelty that even former Conservative Ministers under Thatcher and John Major think is a hateful and unacceptable exercise in nastiness for the sake of nastiness, designed to pander to the basest prejudices of the far right media. Sadly but unsurprisingly you would be wrong. Not only has the Labour party said that it will not oppose this offence against humanity and common decency and will not reverse it when in power, but Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall reportedly told The Times newspaper that in her view the Conservative plans did not go far enough.

Labour’s move to the right is a consequence of the broken system of British politics and the first past the post system for Westminster elections so beloved of both the Labour and Conservative parties. It’s a system which repeatedly forces voters to choose the least worst option, as the Conservatives move to the right, Labour moves rightwards in order to appeal to the former Tory voters whose support it needs to win the election. This in turn nudges the Conservatives to shift even further to the right, and with every election the depressing cycle repeats itself. We get the toryfication of Labour and the Conservatives slide into extreme right wing authoritarian populism.

Labour is now where the Tories were under John Major, while the Conservatives are now an extreme right party advocating policies which were beyond the pale of political acceptability only a few decades ago. Now many Tories advocate leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, something which not even Ukip dared to push for prior to the Brexit referendum. Meanwhile the Conservative assault on civil liberties continues.

The Tories have now normalised extremism aided and abetted by a British media which is now presenting Nigel Farage as a colourful character on a reality TV show and not for what he is, a dangerous fascist. Labour refuses to undo Tory policies once it gets into power and the rightward decline of British politics continues unabated.



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