Last Tuesday, I sat in Parliament and watched the Government break two manifesto commitments in quick succession. First, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would be increasing National Insurance by 1.25%, a decision that will hit workers and businesses hard in the aftermath of a tremendously difficult year. Next, I watched as the Secretary of State for the DWP announced the suspension of the Triple Lock in a huge blow to pensioners across the country who were promised that this would never happen.
Political promises matter. They matter not only because having clear political aims is incredibly important when governing, but also because they are a commitment to the people who voted for you that you mean what you say. I had the same argument over Brexit back when I was in the Shadow Cabinet. For me, it should never have been about reopening the argument. A democratic decision had been made and that was that, which is why I refused to vote for a second referendum. Each time a promise or a commitment isn’t kept, another chunk is taken out of the already disintegrating relationship between the public and politicians.
However, this Government seem unable to recognise that fact. It’s been just under two years since we first saw the Government latch on to the phrase ‘levelling up’ and promise to boost the UK’s most deprived areas. Then came the revelation that the levelling up fund disproportionately benefitted Tory-held areas, and this – coupled with the planned cut to Universal Credit and lack of catch-up funding for pupils impacted by the pandemic – has proven that levelling up was just a useful slogan rather than a detailed policy plan.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I pride myself on being a practical kind of politician. I’m more than happy to admit when I think I’ve got things wrong, and always willing to work with politicians from any party to get stuff done for the people I represent. I try and see both sides of an issue, and having worked in Government myself, know all too well how tough a job it is. Breaking promise after promise, however, is inexcusable and people in Tameside deserve better.
I’m also very worried. The long-term impact of the pandemic has yet to be truly felt, and we face challenging months and years ahead. We must deal with economic uncertainty, educational catch-up, the NHS backlog, the social care crisis, the housing crisis, child poverty and much more. In the face of this formidable list, good Government has never been more important.
We can rebuild better, stronger and fairer than before. To do so, however, promises must start being kept, and proper plans must start being made.