Rishi Sunak is trying his very best to convince everyone that he is a quietly competent person who can be trusted to gradually fix Britain’s problems. He wants us to vote him into office as the safe pair of hands who can steer the country through difficult times.
Which is rather strange as he carries direct personal responsibility for much of the mess the country is in. Everywhere you look the basic services that ordinary people rely on are reeking of neglect. Rather than being part of the solution and fixing that neglect Sunak has been an enthusiastic advocate of policies that have helped created it.
School building crisis
The recent fiasco over schools being forced to close classrooms just hours before the start of the new academic year is a typical case in point. Even according to the Conservative schools minister, Nick Gibb, it was Sunak who decided to slash the budget for rebuilding schools when it was known that large numbers of them had unsafe roofs that could collapse.
During the early austerity years of the Conservative government the school building programme was running at 100 new schools every year. The education department told the chancellor that it was necessary to increase this to 200 before problems became too serious. Sunak decided to cut it down to 50.
What is even worse is that instead of focusing that reduced budget on the most needy schools, he was an enthusiastic supporter of squandering money on building ‘free schools’. Typical of the wasteful nature of these ideologically driven schemes is the new sixth form college which is being built in Keighley.
There is little doubt that education in deprived areas like Keighley needs investment to help tackle some of the entrenched problems in that community. There is every reason to doubt that driving the existing college to the edge of bankruptcy by setting up a rival on its doorstep is the best way to use scarce resources.
Health service in ruins
When it comes to the health service there is an equally strong contrast between the talk of responsible government and its actions. If there was one thing that almost everyone agreed about during Covid it was that we depended heavily on the NHS and the people who work in it. No one can run a reliable health service without dedicated staff who are well-motivated. The current prime minister decided that the best way to reward those staff for the huge pressures they were under during Covid was to cut their real terms wages. Again.
A man who personally broke lockdown rules has chosen to deliver lectures to those who worked long hours in intensive care units at great personal risk about the need to tighten belts and the unaffordability of pay rises. Whilst asking us to believe that the way to cut waiting lists is to give a pension break to investment bankers.
Previously loyal public sector staff didn’t go on strike because they suddenly became a bunch of Trotskyists. They did so because Sunak’s government chose to pick a fight instead of negotiate compromises. The health service is going into winter with huge waiting lists, a demoralised workforce, unresolved pay disputes and every prospect of some new form of Covid placing extra strains on the service.
Escalating cost-of-living crisis
Yet that isn’t even the worst of it. His incompetent arrogance is pushing people to the edge of ruin as their cost of living soars. His government has tried to tackle inflation with the wrong tools and little regard to long-term solutions. The prime policy of this government is to put up interest rates until the pain is so great that the economy slows down and it becomes hard to raise prices or to ask for higher wages.
Instead of helping people to invest in better-insulated homes or supporting cheap solar and wind power so that bills are reduced, Sunak has focused on one-off subsidies for fuel bills. An incredibly expensive way of helping people that sees public money pour out of the coffers to ease the pain of energy bills. At exactly the same time, oil and gas suppliers were putting up those bills excessively in order to increase their profit margins.
In the United States inflation is 3.18% and investment in updating the economy is roaring ahead. In the UK inflation is still at 6.4% for all items and a lot more for essentials, whilst investment is stalling.
Brexit has weakened Britain
Instead of turbo driving the economy this government is crashing it. Instead of Brexit producing the promised improvements, people are struggling to buy basic essentials. Sunak was one of those who promised us faithfully that Britain would roar ahead once we were free from the shackles of Brussels bureaucracy.
With every passing month it becomes clear to more people that this is the exact opposite of what has actually happened. Brexit has produced extra bureaucracy for Britain’s exporters which has damaged our businesses. Skilled and experienced people left the country, further damaging our businesses. We lost years of membership of the Horizon science programme which has seen our leading researchers fall from their position of leadership, damaging our high-tech businesses.
Every one of the much vaunted new trade deals has allowed farmers in other countries to sell food to Britain that has been produced by methods we rightly refuse to allow British farmers to use, damaging British farming businesses.
Now Sunak has travelled to India. Asking as a weak supplicant for a trade deal that we could have negotiated from a position of strength if we were inside the EU. As he basks in the glow of the press coverage about his family connections, he might like to reflect on what is being said by many in India with increasing justification. India’s economy is on the rise whilst standards of living in Britain are falling.
At the time of Brexit much was made about Britain’s strong position as the fifth biggest economy in the world? It is no longer true. That position is now held by India as Britain heads steadily down the rankings. Thanks to policies that were enthusiastically endorsed by our current prime minister.
If we don’t want to carry on declining then we urgently need to get rid of this government. Sunak isn’t quietly competent. He is quietly incompetent.
The country can’t take much more of it.