The Next Conservative LeaderA High-Austerity Prime Minister
Conservative candidates are making increasingly wild tax cut pledges, which can only be paid for by drastically cutting public services, reports Adam Bienkov
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The candidates to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister are currently competing with each other to offer the most unaffordable slate of tax cuts.
Among them is the Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, who this morning indicated that he plans to slash corporation tax, business rates and income tax and pay for it by slashing the size of the state.
Asked by Sky News what public services he would cut to pay for these pledges, he said that he would like to cut every government department by 20%.
This aligns with Zahawi’s previous calls for the party to focus on “rolling back the state” in order to pay for tax cuts.
However, cuts on the scale he appeared to back this morning would be absolutely ruinous and cause the near-total destruction of many vital public services.
His allies later suggested that he had only intended to refer to staff cuts at departments, rather than overall budgets.
However, such are the demands for a low tax, high austerity agenda among the Conservative selectorate, that all of the candidates are increasingly following each other down this same destructive road.
And the net result is that whoever succeeds Boris Johnson will be under huge pressure to impose ever more drastic cuts on public services.
And any further cuts to the size of the public sector will only take further money out of an already struggling economy. As the economist Richard Murphy has written: “Get rid of these public servants and not only do we lose what they add to the economy, we also lose what they spend as well. They won’t be spending much when they’re unemployed. Nor will most find jobs as well paid.”
Yet such is the fervour for tax cuts, that such considerations are falling by the wayside.
As a result, the Conservative Party is now shifting significantly to the right of the current Prime Minister on economics. Whatever his many faults, Johnson did seek to distinguish himself from his predecessors by claiming that he was bringing an end to austerity.
As ever with Johnson, the reality of his record did not fully align with his rhetoric. Yet the logical conclusion of the agenda now being pushed by almost all the Conservative leadership candidates is not just a return of the sort of austerity seen in the Cameron era, but the supercharging of it.
Interestingly, the one candidate to so far put up any kind of resistance to this, is the current frontrunner Rishi Sunak, who has said that further tax cuts can only come once the threat of inflation has been tackled.
Yet such is the pressure that he is now coming under from Conservative MPs and party members, that even he is likely to be forced to follow his colleagues down a similarly destructive path.
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