Don’t let the Tories get away with it on May 3rd
A huge effort is being made to represent the London mayoral elections as a merely localised personality contest between two “flawed” individuals. This is a convenient myth that conceals more than it reveals. To truly understand what is happening in London, we need to see the wider context.
Looking back to the financial crisis it is easy to see in retrospect that the collapse in the markets was used to increase the power of an oligarchy of elites. The millionaires were rewarded and the millions are paying more. The Sunday Times rich list shows the wealthiest 1,000 gaining fabulous new wealth. But it’s austerity for the rest.
This consensus is beginning to break up. Throughout Europe there is increasing evidence of growing resistance to austerity. An insurgent spirit is emerging that challenges the decision by those who act on behalf of the 1% to impose austerity on the 99%. Equally, the argument for growth and jobs is increasingly powerful.
The French elections are only one of a series of events that indicate that a new mood is beginning to emerge. Here in the UK we have our own elections, of which London is certainly among the most important. The background to this is the debate taking place within the Tory high command that would strengthen the elites and intensify austerity. The Treasury has made it clear that it wants billions of pounds more in spending cuts.
At the centre of this Tory debate is their mayoral candidate. Boris Johnson has worked tirelessly over almost two decades to present a comic outsider persona – harmless, affable and entertaining. He has attempted to harvest the anti-politics mood of the wider insurgent spirit that is growing everywhere.
But let’s be clear; Johnson’s positioning is a dangerous deception. He is not a harmless buffoon. He is part of the oligarchy. His policies are to the right of the coalition. He emerged out of the very core of the 1%, and is located at the centre of the most dangerous group within an already dangerous Conservative party.
Already there is a nascent battle for the soul for the Conservative party and for the succession when David Cameron leaves. A Johnson victory would embolden George Osborne and unleash a further dynamic within the Tory party to tighten the austerity.
For those who find this argument exaggerated or hard to believe, we should recall that he was among the first to advocate a tax payback to the richest in our country.
It was Johnson who took up the cause for a reduction in the 50% tax rate almost as soon as Labour announced the higher rate. He was the ideological pioneer who prepared the ground for the recent Tory budget. Long before Osborne took the decision to cut the top rate of tax and put huge sums of money back into the pockets of the top 1%, Johnson was calling for double the tax giveaway for the very richest, supporting a cut to just 40%.
Now we see once again Johnson acting as a rightwing outrider for the 1% with his suggestion of further tax reductions in this week’s Sunday Telegraph, aimed not at helping the millions of Londoners but the vested interests in the City.
Under the coalition led by his Tory colleagues, the UK has slipped back into a disastrous and avoidable recession. Millions of Londoners are facing huge pressure on their family budgets thanks to the complete failure of Tory policies – endorsed and promoted by Johnson – to protect the interests of the public and deliver jobs and growth.
After all, let’s remember that Johnson himself is a major beneficiary of the reduced rate. But it is the millions of ordinary people in London and elsewhere who will pay for this tax gift to the very richest.
Johnson’s now infamous “chicken feed” comments – referring to the £250,000 a year income he receives for a second job writing for the Telegraph on top of his mayoral responsibilities – confirm just how obscenely out of touch he really is.
While he rakes in this “chicken feed”, more than 400,000 London pensioners have lost money through the Tory “granny tax” to pay for a tax cut for the super rich. And almost 120,000 London families face losing all of their tax credits because of the Tory tax credit cuts.
And let’s not forget, Johnson was a strong supporter of Section 28 on the basis that “we don’t want our children being taught some rubbish about homosexual marriage being the same as normal marriage”. He is out of touch, as exemplified by his numerous comments, using phrases such as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” just a few years ago.
It is irresponsible of many in the commentariat to ignore these issues and to pretend that the mayoral election is only a battle between two personalities with no real national consequence for the wider society. Do not believe this even for a second.
We can’t let the Tories get away with it. A second term for a Tory mayor will have consequences for us all. On Friday, Nick Clegg was told in a visit to a supermarket about mothers who were going without meals to feed their children. He said you would have to be made of stone not to be affected, as if their plight had nothing to do with the government of which he is the deputy prime minister.
But the voters must not think, like Clegg, that they can wash their hands of responsibility for their actions on Thursday if they fail to vote against the Tories. Let every elector in London understand that their actions on Thursday can either accelerate the austerity or contribute to the resistance.
It is time to resist.