Boris Johnson has attempted to grab the headlines by bigging up his government’s £5 billion post-pandemic spending programme on schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
“Build back greener, build back faster”, barked the “tougher than a butcher’s dog” prime minister, before the cloud of a reimposed lockdown in Leicester darkened proceedings.
In reality, much of what’s been pledged is recycled commitments and announcements by the government. It will do nothing to prevent the economy plunging into the deepest recession in 300 years.
The PM has promised £1 billion extra for schools in England, spread over ten years. But before parents, teachers and students cheer, the National Audit Office points out that £6.7 billion is needed for basic school repairs, and a further £7.1 billion to bring schools up to a ‘good condition’.
Decade of austerity
Indeed, a decade of Tory austerity has led to chronic underfunding in health and education. Johnson’s spending programme is hardly on the scale of President Roosevelt’s spending programme in 1930s America and, as the Socialist pointed out in a recent article (‘Roosevelt’s New Deal programme – reforms to save capitalism’ at socialistparty.org.uk), it largely failed to turn the depressed US economy around.
The PM’s investment plans in infrastructure to rebuild the economy is part of his political strategy to retain support in former ‘red wall’ Labour constituencies, which switched to the Tories in the last general election.
This is deemed necessary by Number 10 because Johnson’s standing in opinion polls has plummeted as the government’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic has become more apparent.
A recent poll for the i newspaper shows a negative approval rating of -7 points for the prime minister compared to a positive rating of +38 in mid-April. And 76% of those polled say the lockdown was implemented too late. However, only 19% of respondents thought right-wing Labour leader Keir Starmer would make a better PM.
Johnson is reportedly insisting there must be no return to austerity, despite the massive funding crisis in councils due to government cuts. Moreover, since being elected to parliament in 2015, he has voted for all the Tory governments’ austerity measures. And there was no outcry from him when the 2010 Tory government scrapped Labour’s timid ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme, which stopped 715 rebuild projects.
Most of the government’s largesse will go into private hands. This is despite the failure of private sector companies in building and running hospitals, and having to renationalise the part-privatised probation service, and bailing out the private train operating companies to the tune of £3.5 billion this year.
The Tories support for private developers and landlords, and hostility to council housing, means that the chronic shortage of affordable housing is unlikely to be addressed. The Tories’ 2015 ‘Starter Homes Initiative,’ costing £2.3 billion, produced zero new properties!
There is little sign of investment in green jobs such as public transport schemes, energy production, insulating homes, etc. In fact, the previous National Infrastructure Strategy, aimed at tackling crucial environmental issues, has again been kicked down the road, including the manifesto commitment to a national home insulation programme. Johnson has, however, lavished spending on environmentally unfriendly new road building.
The Tory government’s bailouts and handouts to big business will do little to address the chronic social problems facing working-class communities, ie jobs, pay, housing, transport, education and other service provision.
The failed capitalist profit system, which Johnson champions, is the root cause of austerity and underinvestment in infrastructure. Only socialist policies can build better, greener and faster.