Seeing Red story header image

Seeing Red: Partygate and poverty. Does it matter in Thanet?

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on May 30, 2022.

With a staggering cost of living crisis and seemingly endless incidents of appalling behaviour by MPs (mainly Tories it had to be said), and the latest news on parties at number 10 during the Covid lockdown, does it matter to you that the current Government and Prime Minister are, without doubt, the worst this country has seen in living memory? The degree of outrageous behaviour and mismanagement is frankly astounding.

I have so many worries about what is currently taking place in the UK, in particular, the cost of living rise, which seems never ending with prices not only going up all the time, but also generating a real feeling of anxiety and insecurity. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to ensure I have enough to manage weekly and monthly bills – whilst also trying to prepare for what will undoubtedly be an expensive winter. Especially if it’s a cold one.

By autumn 2022 average household heating and cooking bills are anticipated to be £2,800, up from £1,971 in April. That’s a lot of money to find, especially if you’re middle-earning, on benefits or on a fixed income like most pensioners. Following the chancellor’s announcement an estimated 8 million of the poorest households will now receive help worth £650. That’s great stuff – credit where credit is due – it’s definitely going in the right direction. But it’s ‘thin gruel’ – a handout – instead of a thoughtful, planned, cogent response that puts adequate money into peoples pockets that affords the dignity of self-reliance and certainty of being able to budget.

So many people across the spectrum will continue to suffer, and they were already struggling, the cruel £20 weekly cut to Universal Credit has hit many very hard, rising and uncontrolled rents, rocketing food costs, the latest tax hike and inflation have knocked many for six. Most people simply can’t plan ahead based on the Government’s unplanned, piecemeal approach.

Fuel bill help is also being paid in stages and is not targeted at those most in need. Everyone will get help, even the millionaires and the new Covid billionaires. That can’t be right, can it? Even Rishi Sunak who recently made the rich list – he is worth £730m coming in at the 222nd richest person in the country! Not bad. A chancellor incidentally who has also raised taxes more in two years than Gordon Brown did in his 10 year stint. Much to the disappointment of the right wing of his party.

When you consider Universal Credit is around £79 per week, it’s clearly not enough to live on. Benefits should be a decent safety net to catch people when they need help to prevent workhouse style hardship. I think all our MPs need a stint living on the benefits they set, to understand what hardship really means and to fully grasp the impact of their decisions. I for one have will never forget how difficult I found relying on benefits, trying to manage and raise children as a single parent whilst attempting to start a career.

While I’m at it, maybe all our MPs should do a stint in an elderly persons’ home and a hostel for the homeless too.

A temporary levy on oil and gas giants in the middle of this cost of living crisis is a good thing (albeit that the same companies will benefit from some generous tax breaks). Labour has been calling for exactly this for 5 months, after the CEO of BP described the fuel crisis as a “cash machine.” Indeed, the energy companies are on record as not being opposed to this idea. Why would they be? They continue to rake in super profits and have done for decades! But many people are saying – correctly in my opinion – that the timing of this announcement is just a way of distracting us and is an attempt to buy us off. A smoke screen to cover the lamentable Sue Gray report.

Has any Prime Minister ever displayed greater contempt for the public? Not content with setting Covid rules for us all to follow while blithely breaking them himself. Not chastened by being the only PM – ever – to receive a FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice) for breaking his own law. We now have to witness the changes to the ministerial code which protect Boris Johnson by removing the need for resignations over breaches to the code. In plain English, moving the goal posts.

No wonder Conservative MPs are calling for Johnson’s resignation, indeed North Thanet’s Roger Gale has shown his metal by speaking candidly about the need for a new Conservative leader. Should the 1922 committee receive 54 such letters Boris will have to resign and a new leader will be found, so far around 19 have been received. Meanwhile the Tories are, unsurprisingly, limping forward, haemorrhaging public support. That’s no good for the UK and no good on the international stage. Our leader is a laughing stock. We need our leaders to lead. Not to cover their tracks and duck and dive.

I feel so strongly about the need for better leadership at this difficult time, that I’ve written to South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, asking him to submit a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson on our behalf.

I’m not holding my breath. Climate denying Mr. Mackinlay’s support for both Boris and his allegiance to the ‘carbonisters’ is well documented. Still, I felt compelled to at least ask… Feel free to copy and paste or submit your own request.

Dear Craig,

In response to the publication of the Sue Gray report into the events that took place in Downing Street during Coronavirus restrictions, I am calling on you to do the right thing and withdraw your support from the Prime Minister.

The report’s findings were shocking, detailing serious failures of leadership that led to multiple examples of unacceptable behaviour, at several events. It confirmed that the most senior leaders in government attended these events and that “[m]any should not have been allowed to happen.”

The details are stark. Five months ago the Prime Minister told Parliament that “all guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”

Yet we now know he attended numerous events, at least one of which the police have handed out fines for, deeming it illegal. We know that just before Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions of people an event was held in Downing Street in which staff drank “excessively”, which others in the building described as a “party”, and that cleaners were left to mop up red wine the next day.

People in South Thanet were unable to attend the funerals of family members, went painful months without seeing loved ones and had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic restrictions. Many made the sacrifices required willingly, putting public interest above their own.

It is hard to read the report without concluding that the government treated these immense sacrifices with utter contempt.

As our community continues to feel the crippling effects of the cost of living crisis – families need to know that they have a government that is on their side, entirely focused on what people need at this extremely difficult time.

It is in that vein that I am urging you to write to the 1922 committee and call on Boris Johnson to resign.

Sue Gray’s report lays bare the rot that has infected 10 Downing Street under this Prime Minister. The buck must stop with him.

I urge you to tell Boris Johnson that the ‘jig is up’. That you cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker. That it’s time to pack his bags.

Only then can the government function again. Only then can the rot be carved out. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office, and the democracy it represents.

Thank you for your time, a look forward to receiving your reply

Yours sincerely,
Cllr Karen Constantine.

Read the Sue Gray report here.