'Long Corbyn hangs over Labour's response to Johnson'

George Binette, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Clp Trade Union Liaison Officer

George Binette says that a threat to the NHS comes in the form of the Health and Care Bill - Credit: George Binette

So, Boris Johnson broke a manifesto pledge with a National Insurance (NI) tax rise with the supposed aim of fulfilling another pledge from July 2019 to “fix the social care crisis once and for all”.

Predictably, some columnists in Tory-backing papers were apoplectic, but with the costs of Covid providing a handy pretext the government had no difficulty steamrollering the proposal through the Commons barely 24 hours after the Prime Minister’s official announcement.

A woefully underfunded NHS will absorb the lion’s share of the additional tax take with nothing to suggest that the package will address chronically low pay and poor conditions for staff in a sector now dominated by for-profit companies, underwritten by the public purse.

An injection of new money may paper over the cracks but won’t remedy fundamental failings in terms of both the quality and quantity of care provision.

The political packaging of the NI levy was clever: a tax explicitly earmarked for the NHS and a broken social care system; the imposition of the 1.25 per cent NI rise on previously exempt pensioners still in work and on income derived from dividends.

Of course, the £16.5billion boost to military spending without commensurate tax rises is conveniently forgotten.

The Labour front bench offered a comprehensive, if not entirely consistent, critique of the government’s package, with Keir Starmer rightly accusing Johnson of “hammering working people” with a tax that hits low to middle income earners disproportionately and leaves the wealth of the richest untouched. Crucially, though, the Tories have been able to taunt Labour with “where is your alternative?”

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Long before Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership senior Labour figures advocated a national care service, though Gordon Brown ultimately vetoed the notion. The idea resurfaced in Labour’s 2017 and ’19 manifestoes, and the glaringly obvious sources of funding include a wealth tax on property and income from capital gains.

In its evident zeal to exorcise the ghost of “long Corbyn”, the current Labour leadership risks ditching popular and entirely affordable policies, while competing on the terrain of “low tax” where the Tories are the invariable winners.

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