“When sorrows come,” said Shakespeare, “they come not single spies, but in battalions.” Theresa May’s government is now in complete crisis on several fronts.
Seven years of Tory austerity have reduced public services to the point of no return. Head teachers have told MPs that school budgets are “at breaking point” following £2.8 bn of cuts. Teachers estimate they spend up to £1,000 a year of their own money on classroom equipment due to this shortfall in funding.
The NHS too faces an unprecedented funding crisis, with trusts in England running a deficit of nearly £1 bn in the first financial quarter alone. The debt is fuelled by over-reliance on agency staff. The consequences will be longer waiting times and poorer service.
The prison service is also in crisis, the long term impact of staff cuts and overcrowding. And now police chiefs have announced they won’t be investigating a range of crimes from theft to assault where there is little chance of apprehending a perpetrator. As crime rises sharply, the party which once claimed to be the guardian of law and order now presides over the collapse of public service.
The so-called party of the family is exposing vulnerable women and children to unprecedented risk. Women’s refuges, which have seen their budgets cut by a quarter over the last seven years, had to turn away over 1,000 women and children fleeing domestic violence in the last six months alone.
Britain is getting poorer. With inflation rising and a real threat of interest rates following, workers now earn less than they did ten years ago. Four million people are in serious financial difficulties. The level of indebtedness - greatest among 25-34 year olds - means that half the UK population is officially “financially vulnerable”, with one quarter of the lowest paid workers having no realistic chance of earning more money.
This would matter less if more of the welfare state were still intact. As it is, the introduction of the Tories’ flagship benefit reform, Universal Credit, at a cost of £15 bn, is a fiasco. Its understaffing, failed computer systems and delays aggravate a consciously designed attack aimed at increasing the misery of already harassed claimants by piling indignities upon hunger and evictions through its opaque calculations - making future cuts easier to conceal - and its comprehensive sanctions regime.
This public services crisis alone would be enough to explain why Labour has opened up a six point poll lead and Jeremy Corbyn is now reckoned to be better prime ministerial material than May. But there‘s more. The open squabbling in the Tory party underscores the increasing panic over the effective breakdown in Brexit negotiations. The most vociferous Brexiteers now pander to their tabloid base by proclaiming the need to leave the EU with no deal on future arrangements in place. This is despite the evidence that a “no-deal Brexit” could wipe out £40 bn of economic growth over the next two years.
More cautious Tories around the Chancellor cling to the apparently rational hope that it is in the EU’s best economic interests to do a deal. But just as Britain’s decision to leave was overwhelmingly political, so we can expect the EU’s response to be. Economically advantageous arrangements may be overridden by their need to preserve the political integrity of the Union - by taking a punitive approach to the UK to discourage others from following suit.
In the midst of this crisis, Theresa May attempts to bridge the two divergent positions, about as effectively as John Major did a generation ago. And in increasingly desperate attempts to shore up her position, she raids Labour’s programme for crowd-pleasing initiatives, promising a review of tuition fees and the Mental Health Act, more ‘affordable’ housing and an energy cap - a policy her party denounced in 2015 as a “Marxist gimmick”.
In practice, all these policies are watered down versions of what Labour has been demanding for some time. And increasingly, Jeremy Corbyn is seen as having more commitment, determination and integrity to see them through to the end.
With its open divisions, plummeting poll ratings and politically bankruptcy, it’s just a matter of time before those propping up this minority government allow it to be put out of its misery. Meanwhile, we have a huge job ahead of us on a timescale not of our making - to make sure our Party has the candidates, organisation and above all policies in place to ensure the next election - whenever it comes - gives the Corbyn team the scale of victory necessary to fulfil his mandate to transform Britain.