You have to admire the Conservatives’ courage as they launch their annual get-together in enemy territory today. Manchester is a Tory-free zone. Not one of them sits on the council and the city hasn’t sent a candidate sporting a blue rosette to Parliament for nearly three decades. The party faithful won’t be rattled by a bit of hostility from the locals, though. Expect a week of cheerful flag-waving.
In Opposition, Cameron was dismissed as a “shallow salesman”, ridiculed for hugging hoodies. He now leads the most right-wing Government of modern times, going further than previous Tory Prime Ministers ever dared. As Tory minister Greg Barker crowed back in April: “We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s could only have dreamt of.”
The Tories should have romped home at the last election. We had a woefully unpopular Labour PM and faced the worst economic crisis since the 1920s. But Cameron is only in No10 because the Lib Dems dumped their promises over tuition fees, VAT and cuts for a few ministerial limos.
The Lib Dems have proved useful shields but, as the Tories toast their first 16 months, let’s remember they failed to be straight with everyone. They promised “no more top-down reorganisations” of the NHS. Yet Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is unleashing the biggest changes since the NHS began in 1948. One firm standing to benefit from creeping privatisation is Care UK – whose former chairman, John Nash, handed Lansley £21,000 to fund his private office before the election.
Another Cameron pledge was: “We will not cut the deficit in a way that hurts those we most need to help.” But letters are going out to 700,000 terminally-ill patients telling them their benefits may be taken away. And the proposed cap on housing benefit will drive thousands from their homes.
The Tories promised a Big Society. They are delivering an Ugly Society. Cameron said he had no plans to get rid of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which helped poorer kids. But that was chopped too.
In Cameron’s Britain, it’s boom time for the rich and recession for the rest. Families face the biggest squeeze in living standards since the 1920s, while boardroom pay in the top 100 companies went up 55 per cent last year.
But this Government has made it clear whose side it’s on. The so-called party of low taxes hiked VAT, a tax that hits the poor hardest. Meanwhile they boost the bank balances of their pals in the City by slashing Corporation Tax. And senior Tories say they’ll drop the 50p top tax rate when they can – a tax only the richest one per cent pay.
There’s little mystery why the Tories are making decent, ordinary people pay for a crisis caused by the banks. After all, 22 out of 29 Cabinet Ministers are millionaires. The Government could hardly be less representative of modern Britain. Hedge funds and private equity firms shovelled millions into the Tories’ war chest. Ministers are just standing up for those they grew up with, worked with and those who funded them.
As the Tories dance and celebrate this week, thousands of Mancunians outside face unemployment, falling living standards and insecurity. Cameron and his Cabinet of millionaires are building a divided, unequal society. This week, it will be showcased in a city that rejects all the Tories stand for.
This article appeared in the Sunday Mirror