On 13th August 1964, Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were hanged for the murder of John Alan West, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Manchester’s infamous Strangeways, respectively. History buffs will be all too aware that these two executions were the last carried out in the UK, before capital punishment was suspended the following year, and permanently abolished in Great Britain in 1969. And yet after more than half a century has elapsed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken it upon himself to sign a new death warrant: that of the Labour Party.
Controversy abounds over Hammond’s Budget, with a major rebellion brewing over its violation of a manifesto commitment to not raise national insurance contributions. Whatever the upshot of this, however, Hammond’s 55-minute speech, delivered with typically understated poise and oratory flourish, detailed an economic plan that will transform the “country that works for everyone” from rhetoric into reality, and drive the last nail into the Labour Party’s coffin.
Obsessing over the political theatre of it all is tempting, but that’s something most voters will have forgotten in a week. What they won’t forget, however, is the palpable benefits that Hammond’s Budget will bring. New parents, for instance, a constituency won over to Labour by Blair’s bombast on education, will now benefit from a doubling to thirty hours of free childcare per week, from the 15 introduced by the coalition government. And then, after they first drop their child off at the school gate, parents stand to gain from the provisions for tax-free childcare for all children up to the age of 12. Although both policies are little more than confirmation and improvement of previously announced reforms, they will be of integral importance in empowering the many underemployed parents in the country to work – and earn – more for their families.
On further education, Hammond has unveiled the most ambitious reforms in the modern era, building on the last seven years’ untarnished success with apprenticeships by rolling out the “T-level”. Intended as a vocational rival to the A-level, it will, as the Chancellor described, create “parity of esteem”, allowing the many teenagers who feel their future does not involve academia, to escape scorn for deciding to be educated in skills that are relevant to the career they pursue. Revitalising many forgotten parts of our country, the cohort of students emancipated from the confines of an education unsuited to their talents will not forget which party authored these reforms.
These are just two examples of how this week’s Budget, with judicious implementation, will co-opt territory lost to Labour in the Blair years. The accusation will come from hard-line fiscal conservatives, that the Government is beating Labour by becoming them – but such suggestions are characterised by a disingenuous lack of nuance. Truthfully, the Hammond/May economic doctrine is not a concession to left-wing hubris, but simply a recognition that goals championed by the left can be both shaped and achieved through Tory means. “Education, education, education” may be a tenor redolent of the Blair years, but its presumption – that education is at the heart of opportunity, success and prosperity – can be embossed with a Tory stamp by legislating that, at the heart of education, is choice, vocation – and, yes, selection.
This is ergo not any kind of surrender to Labour, but instead a reshaping of the issues that matter to their voters, addressing their concerns with policies drafted by dry, Tory sense; a blue instrument, one might say, inside a red glove. Incompetent though he is, Jeremy Corbyn knows this – and the weary figure, that today stood as Hammond sat, cut the outline not of a party leader with the scent of blood in his nostrils, but a man who knows he is cornered, and that time is running out. His response was boring, predictable, and, in its extensively recycled attacks on the state of the NHS and workers’ rights, bordered on plagiarism. Enjoying the support of an infinitesimally small sector of his MPs, one might speculate that the Leader of the Opposition experiences such frightful conniptions over zero-hour contracts because most sat to his rear would like to place him on one.
Ultimately, there is little that Labour can do. Ravaged by decades of class dealignment, and fatally disconnected from their core electorate, the less myopic MPs to sit on Opposition benches will have deduced that even a change in leader is likely to achieve at most a temporary stay of their impending dispatch. Not only are the clear divisions between social classes that historically sustained the Labour Party becoming more blurred with each passing year, but the Conservative Government is intent upon catering to the needs of every demographic, dicing Labour’s support into unidentifiably disparate cubby-holes in the electorate. By envisaging a modern economy that delivers prosperity, and a state that facilitates opportunity rather than polices it, the Chancellor’s Spring Budget has sealed Labour’s fate – in thoroughly blue ink.