If you were hoping for new prime minister Liz Truss’s acceptance speech to show that she is going to act decisively on the cost of living, you will have been disappointed.
Instead, along with a random reference to me, she appears set to double down on Britain’s rotten economic system. Faced with crumbling living standards for the many, with runaway wealth for the very few, climate breakdown and industrial decline, her cheerleaders want more of the same medicine that made the patient sick.
More tax cuts for the rich, more privatisation, more attacks on trade unions, more fossil fuels, more scapegoating of migrants and minorities.
That’s the prescription Britain has suffered under for much of the last 40 years. But it isn’t the country our people want or that I know we can build. We need, want and can have something very different.
Liz Truss promises to “deliver” on the cost of living crisis. But how? Her hardcore Thatcherite playbook rules out the solutions that are wanted by the British people. The most she can offer is a sticking plaster designed to keep profits flowing to big business.
The spiralling cost of living could be brought under control by ending the profiteering in energy, water, rail and mail. These are natural monopolies and should be in public hands, serving the public good. Then we could introduce proper price caps and guarantee these services for all as a right.
The instigator of inflation is excess profit. This should be taxed to pay for services that reduce the cost of living for families across the country: proper funding for our NHS, a National Care Service for our elderly, childcare for our young, and free school meals for all primary school children.
Pay isn’t driving inflation. How can it? Real terms pay hasn’t risen for almost 15 years – and now it’s crashing through the floor. Britain needs a pay rise. In one of the richest countries in the world, it should be unthinkable that people working full-time jobs are forced to choose between heating and eating. So we need to raise the minimum wage, end exploitative zero-hours contracts and support unions resisting pay cuts. For once, we need a government on the side of workers, pushing employers to boost pay, rather than attacking the unions supporting their members.
Liz Truss may not care about inequality, but the evidence shows that it hurts all of society and holds back our economy. It just doesn’t make sense that billionaires enjoyed a huge increase in wealth in 2020 when the real economy was shut down due to Covid. Nor does it make sense for CEOs to earn 351 times their workers and take massive bonuses, while squeezing wages.
The super-rich make their money from wealth, not earned income. The time has come for a proper wealth tax on them, as well as closing all the scams that allow multinational companies and wealthy elites to dodge taxes here and hide their money offshore. That money isn’t earned and is essential to our services, enterprises and pockets of the British people.
The excess profits of the fossil fuels companies, who are raking it in as bills for businesses and consumers soar, need to be heavily taxed too. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres was right when he warned earlier this year that these companies “have humanity by the throat”. But instead of challenging them, Truss is set to expand fossil fuel production with more public subsidies.
Guterres has called new funding for fossil fuels “delusional”. I would go further: it is a death wish. We cannot prevent climate breakdown, which will lead to more extreme weather, refugees, hunger and economic damage, by ramping up oil and gas production.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
Instead, we need a rapid and radical energy transition, which could bring huge numbers of good green jobs through a Green New Deal, and free the technology for use in the countries of the Global South, who have done the least to contribute to climate breakdown.
But rather than face up to the number one existential issue facing humanity, the Tory leadership contest spent more time competing to see who can kick down the hardest on vulnerable people, particularly refugees. Instead of helping people fleeing wars around the world and working to bring them to an end, Truss has doubled down on her predecessor’s shameful and illegal deportation of refugees to Rwanda.
I know Britain can be different. Millions don’t have to struggle to get by at the end of the month, and we don’t have to inflict misery on those with less than us to feel like we have a little bit more. I’ve seen our country’s real values. In every community, you find people looking out for each other, supporting those facing tough times and pulling together.
We’ll likely face a lot more adversity and stress over the next two years of Truss’s premiership, but if we look after each other and band together, we can begin to build something to transform our broken politics and the rotten economic system it supports.
Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North and served as leader of the Labour Party from 2015 to 2020. You can find out more about his Peace and Justice Project here