There are few politicians who survive long after announcing tax increases and, since Tuesday, Britons now face paying the highest taxes on their incomes than at any time since the Second World War.
Whether this general tenet of politics holds true in the case of Boris Johnson remains to be seen. But his plans to overhaul the creaking British care system that looks after seniors and those unable to live in their own homes, and provide more funding for the National Health Service (NHS) to cut its waiting lists, drove a coach and horses through conservative manifesto pledges not to raise taxes. A coach and horses?
Yes, for since Brexit took effect, there is now a chronic shortage of lorry drivers willing to spend long hours in their cabs crawling up and down Britain’s chronic motorways for poor pay. That was a job that many immigrants from the eastern nations of the European Union could do — but they are now gone.
Around 10 per cent of the goods that used to be on the supermarket shelves of pre-Brexit stores are now gone — either unavailable because of the red tape in sending supplies to the United Kingdom or unable to be shipped because there’s no one to drive the truck to bring it to the shops. And few willing to work stocking those shelves.
Some fast-food chains have stopped selling milkshakes because the constituent material is unavailable, while one chicken chain has temporarily closed some 50 high street stores because of logistics-based issues.
What’s more, in this new Britain where Brexit was done and its budget deficit hit a peacetime high of 14 per cent of gross domestic product in the year to March due to Covid-related spending, there is a shortage of staff behind the counters of those supermarkets and fast-food chains. Brits aren’t rushing to fill jobs flipping burgers for £8.91 and hour — £6.56 if they’re under 20.
Gulf News travelled through Manchester Airport on Sunday — a facility filled with Brits on their way to September sun — where the largest restaurant was firmly closed because of too few staff to quench the thirst and hunger of those travellers.
Before he announced it, Johnson’s big, manifesto-breaking tax increase to fix care costs and the NHS was the object of deep grumbling and dark threats from Conservative MPs. That murmuring was contained as Johnson outlined the plan to raise National Insurance contributions by 1.25 per cent for both employee and employer that would bring in £14 billion annually to cover the extra costs — the threat of a cabinet shuffle looms large these days from a government that has been uninspiring and unconvincing in issues across the board.
Sadly, if Johnson’s cabinet is uninspiring and unconvincing, then so too is the performance of Sir Kier Starmer, the Leader of the Labour Party. Taxing the rich and looking after the poor and ill health should be the backbone of any Labour leader. If it is, Starmer has difficulty getting the message across.
When Starmer said: “Read my lips: the Tories can never again claim to be the party of low tax”, Johnson replied that the Conservatives were “the party of the NHS”.
But what of that NHS now after Brexit?
Before Britain left the EU, one-in-four staff were from beyond its borders. Overworked through the pandemic and now facing visa issues to remain, many have chosen to return overseas.
In residential care homes, where seniors and the vulnerable need 24-hour attention, many workers were foreigners willing to put up with the low pay rates and long hours. Now? One would suspect that they have gone the budget airline route home from Manchester airport and the like.
The tax increase is a victory for Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer who lives officially at 11 Downing Street and would dearly love to move in next door to No 10, and it asserts the principle that government spending should be funded by taxation.
The extra funding for the NHS also improves the standing of health secretary Sajid Javid, back in from the cold when Matt Hancock — the public face of lockdowns and social distancing, was caught snogging his special assistant in a Whitehall back office.
When it comes the time that Johnson will exit Number 10, these two protagonists will be centre stage, one from a family of Punjabi descent, the other whose father left Pakistan and drove buses in Rochdale.
Thanks to Brexit, Johnson and his government can throw all the tax revenue it wants at the NHS and its care system. It is the people shut out by Brexit and that new visa system that made the beds, washed the sheets, wiped the patients and mopped the floors making the NHS and care homes tick over.
With all of the attention focused on Westminster in London, on the same day in Edinburgh, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was laying out her new government’s agenda for the coming four years.
There will be no new tax increases in Scotland. And yes, the coalition between the Scottish National Party and the Greens that now control the parliament there is fully intent on holding a second referendum on independence within the next four years.
That independent Scotland, naturally, would apply for fast-track membership of the European Union. For many now who can’t get chicken nuggets, that seems like a meal deal they wouldn’t refuse at the second time of offering.