Croydon’s Conservative MPs may have been stunned into social media silence by Philip Hammond’s anti-small business Budget yesterday, but among their Croydon Tory colleagues on the council, there was open revolt.
“Disgusted by this so-called Conservative government hitting the self-employed,” ranted one Croydon Tory councillor on social media.
“I don’t understand what the party is doing,” Councillor James Thompson added in a subsequent message, as he agreed with the economic points being made by… a senior Labour MP.
James Thompson hasn’t been a councillor for very long – only since 2014. And the Coulsdon East councillor hasn’t been allowed to make much of a name for himself from the council’s opposition back benches at the Town Hall.
But yesterday afternoon, after Hammond had broken Conservative election promises that had promised a “tax lock”, with no tax or National Insurance increases before 2020, Thompson was busying himself in public with his strong disagreement with the move to hike NI for the self-employed by 2 per cent by 2019.
Thompson re-tweeted Fraser Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, who produced the stat that 15 per cent of all workers in Britain are now self-employed: “That’s a lot of people who’ll wonder why Tories broke 2015 manifesto pledge on no tax rises,” Nelson said, and Thompson re-stated.
Thompson also re-tweeted a disenchanted Tory member announcing his resignation from the party, and others who posted this: “I pay more tax than Facebook, don’t get holidays, sick, paternity or pension pay and they get the tax cut while mine goes up?”
For his own part, Thompson wrote on social media: “Attack on self-employed and contractors by this so-called Conservative government once again. Thought we were the party for enterprise?” Note the use of “so-called”.
And minutes later he added: “‘Equalising pay’ argument by government is ridiculous, self-employed are a different kind of workforce who don’t get the same benefits.”
Tories, including Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, have liked to boast of the reducing number of unemployed. But the reality is somewhat different: what the statistics show is there’s a reducing number of people claiming the dole, which is not quite the same thing.
There’s a reason why the figures for those claiming unemployment benefit are down: there’s the vicious Tory campaign against benefits, seeing increasing numbers of people just not bothering to sign-on. Instead, millions have been forced into taking zero hours jobs or to be self-employed, either setting up their own business or, more commonly, taking on the risks of having no sick pay or holiday entitlement, never mind a fat pension, while driving a taxi or delivery van, taking casual work on construction sites, or even being a freelance journalist.
In Croydon, 1 in 8 people are self-employed – that’s around 36,000. For a self-employed plumber or cab driver, the 2 per cent NI increase by April 2019 will cost them each around £600 per year. The NI measures announced by Hammond will raise £2billion over four years from this important sector of the economy.
Where this leaves Thompson and his local party is unclear. Croydon Tories have refused to sanction their members who air racist views on social media, so it is hard to see them taking any firm disciplinary action against Thompson after an outburst on a matter of economic policy.
While young, Thompson did have some influence, as he was the chair of the small but noisy Conservative Youth wing in Croydon. He was not an entirely successful in that office: the organisation folded, “defunct”, as Thompson put it.
Thompson is regarded by his Town Hall colleagues as on the right of the party, however, and his enthusiasm to re-tweet others who found Hammond’s tax increases a resignation issue might, just, suggest that this part-time politician from the deep south of the borough is considering defecting and giving Croydon something their first UKIP councillor.
And that’s a move which would be very damaging for Conservative credibility ahead of the local elections in May 2018 – just a few weeks after the first part of that NI increase kicks in.
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