Last week at the Tory party conference, Liz Truss took centre stage and announced her manifesto for the year ahead, covering polarising policies such as the fate of fracking and the reduction to a 45p tax rate.
Yet, as ‘enemies of enterprise’ were named and shamed and vows to ‘get Britain moving’ ricocheted around Birmingham’s ICC to a chorus of hearty, gentrified cheers, two voices stood out louder than most others.
Rising up from the crowd, two members of Greenpeace held up a sign in gleaming yellow, proclaiming, ‘who voted for this’? While soon having found the original banner snatched from their grasp to a chorus of abhorred ‘boos’, the protesters rather comically brought forth and displayed an identical replica – this before being ejected all together.
While directed at the government’s u-turn on the infamous fracking ban, this is a sentiment that could and should be directed at a great number of Truss’ proposed policies. Having been elected by less than one third of her own party, representing approximately 0.2% of eligible voters, and with the Tory party dipping 20-points behind in recent polls, we must question the legitimacy of Truss’ power to deal with the myriad of problems dealt her way.
Despite now having to tackle major issues such as inflation, energy hikes, climate change and strikes, Truss has no gauge of public opinion and is under no obligation to help the most in need. We as students are experiencing first-hand the effects of the current cost of living crisis: for livers-out such as myself extortionate rent, energy hikes and bank-breaking prices for basic necessities plague our university experience. Good luck booking that train trip home for the holidays – even if the ticket doesn’t cost half your student loan, the strikes are sure to put a spanner in the works.
Boris Johnson’s 2019 victory was based on promises of extra NHS funding, “millions” to be invested in schools and infrastructure as well as managing debt however, they are yet to be fulfilled and are instead being sidelined by Truss’ unfunded tax cuts.
While we can recognise having issues throughout a term and adapting to them is part and parcel of the job of government, evidenced by the pandemic, complete upheaval of manifesto promises and overturn of party leadership to different factions, and thus ideological leanings, is arguably too far gone from what the public voted for. What mandate can be given to a reintroduction of fracking when part of Boris Johnson’s Prime Ministerial promises was not to allow its reintroduction till it be declared safe?
Truss’ cabinet’s doctrine of ideology over practicality is evidenced by the £65 billion the Bank of England were forced to fork out to uphold pension funds. Further policies such as the mini budget are in direct contradiction of the tax rises introduced by Johnson and Sunak, particularly in its effect upon the highest-income households; while previously set to lose 3% of their annual income, Truss is overseeing a 1% gain for the richest tenth of households. This, along with the proposed unfunded 45p tax rate reduction, which has come to a screeching halt too late to prevent further financial damages, clearly showcases whose support Truss’ Tory party is aiming to bolster.
Though, this comes as no surprise. With no manifesto promises of her own to fulfil, Truss and her cabinet are able to lean into policies proposed by right-wing thinktanks, that thus stem from the interests of the oligarchs and corporations who are well known to fund them.
The fact is while Boris Johnson certainly created havoc in his brazenly unrestricted approach to government, his landslide victory in 2019 at least granted him some form of mandate for his madness. Truss however is working against the interests of the people without legitimacy and thus without consequence as there is no standard to which she must be held. Johnson and his cabinet’s absolute destruction of precedented rules of ministerial responsibility, thanks to Partygate and his steadfast protection of Priti Patel, only exacerbates the problem.
Out of touch as well as out of pocket, Truss’ fitful condemnation of the left’s “enemies of enterprise” who “don’t know the frustration you feel to see your road blocked by protesters, or your trains off due to strikes” displays a marked ignorance not just of the level of suffering occurring in her own country amidst a major cost of living crisis but also of the very purpose of a strike – to disrupt thus proving necessity. How else are the people’s voices to be heard over the layers of donor money, unwavering commitment to ideology and factional divisions?
So how can we make our voices heard? Waiting until the next election sounds like the only real answer as strikes continue to escalate with no sufficient gains. However, what is to stop the next government following this established precedent? For some, this suggests it’s time for a written, codified constitution. For others, a more direct democracy is desired: first past the post is fatally flawed, but what do we replace it with?
Just yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, Kier Starmer thrice invoked the same inflammatory line ‘Who voted for this?’ suggesting such sentiment is gaining traction even with the ideological centre. Yet, Starmer has made it clear his Labour party will support no such electoral overhaul despite it most likely being in their best interest.
In 2019, 14.5 million votes went unrepresented in the House of Commons across the UK. Criticisms of electoral reform site the capacity within other systems for coalitions due to overrepresentation of more extreme parties, and a lower likelihood of forming a majority. While this is true, the current polarised climate and factional divisions are ensuring swift policy making is impossible anyway. The doomed fate of Truss’ tax cuts, the already mounting cabinet pressure surrounding adequate benefits is clear evidence of disjointedness. Rumours are already swirling that Liz herself will be ousted by Christmas.
So, what does our vote even mean? It is fair to conclude the current system has failed us and some form of change is necessary. For now, we are left to hope the Tory party’s short-term amnesia subsides and they remember their promises to the electorate. At least Liz can afford for her home to be warm and cosy this Christmas after her seemingly inevitable resignation.
Image by Shane Rounce on Unsplash.