The Spectator

Regressive Conservatism

Since David Cameron resigned, they have lost interest in their achievements in lifting people out of poverty

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party is coming to resemble a drunk trying to get home on a bike. Most of the time he just pushes it along, but occasionally he mounts the saddle and whirls into action — only to find himself swiftly spread-eagled on the road.

Take next month’s local elections. Corbyn launched his party’s campaign trying to bemoan the state of Britain. There are plenty of statistics which he could have trotted out to depict a country underperforming on living standards, debt levels and social mobility. But he chose to cite a supposed decline in life expectancy — which is demonstrably and famously wrong. Life expectancy is rising so quickly (five hours a day, says the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens) that it is adding to fiscal problems.

With Labour unable even to diagnose what’s wrong with Britain, let alone suggest any way of solving it, there is a gaping hole to fill in the political market: how to address poverty. Traditionally, this has been Labour’s ground, but they cannot fill it and nor can the Lib Dems, whose weakened resources are allocated almost entirely to fighting Brexit. Nor can Ukip, whose bid to replace Labour as the party of the working poor has run into the ground.

That leaves the Conservatives, who have come agonisingly close to claiming the issue of social mobility for their own. Towards the end of the Cameron era it looked so promising. An unprecedented rise in employment suggested that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, whatever their other faults, were succeeding in their fundamental objective: to eliminate the welfare trap and get more people into work. Tax cuts — in the form of a rise in the tax-free allowance — have done much to make work pay and lure people off the dole.

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