ANDREW FISHER takes a look at what Liz Truss’s Premiership could mean for Croydon, its MPs and constituencies, its council and its people
So, we now have our fourth Prime Minister in just six years, as Liz Truss begins the latest saga of our increasingly unstable government.
But what might her Prime Ministership mean for Croydon?
Her first speech on the steps of Downing Street included the sort of boilerplate soundbytes about “aspiration nation”, “safer streets”, “high-paying jobs” and “more investment” that could have come from the mouth of any Prime Minister in the last 40 years.
Her energy plan, announced this morning, will cap energy bills at £2,500 for two years. But that itself represents a near doubling of fuel bills since the beginning of this year.
There’s nothing to suggest that this year’s £400 payment for consumers will be repeated next year.
So it is extra money out of people’s pockets being used to prop up a failing energy system. It is also money taken away from the shops, cafés and cinemas, where that money might otherwise have been spent – which will be a huge blow to local businesses, already feeling the pinch.
Truss’s government needs to act to help households and businesses if a very severe recession is to be avoided. Otherwise companies – especially those in retail, leisure and hospitality – will go bust, unemployment will rise and poverty soar.
Truss has committed to reverse National Insurance rises imposed by her predecessor Boris Johnson and his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. That reversal will put £217.88 a year (about £4 a week) back into the pockets of someone on a £30,000 annual wage. Critics argue it only returns £7.66 to the poorest 10per cent of the population, while returning a whopping £1,801.89 to the richest 10per cent.
Truss and her supporters argue that it was a manifesto pledge not to raise National Insurance – a pledge broken by Johnson and Sunak – and in reversing the tax rise, she is restoring integrity.
Croydon South’s Conservative MP Chris Philp has landed a promotion – going from deputy to gaffe-generator Nadine Dorries under Johnson, to second-in-command at HM Treasury, working under new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng.
Whereas former boss Dorries accused “left-wing snowflakes” of “tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities”, Kwarteng has written a widely-praised book, Ghosts of Empire, looking at the British Empire which he says “openly repudiated ideas of human equality and put power and responsibility into the hands of a chosen elite… The British Empire was not merely undemocratic, it was anti-democratic”.
Kwarteng is one of the closest allies of the new Prime Minister, having vocally backed her campaign and co-authored two books with her – including the one of which described British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.
As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Philp occupies an influential place in the new administration and has a seat at the Cabinet table.
Can Philp put that position of personal influence in the services of Croydon’s citizens?
Croydon’s council has lost around 80 per cent of its funding from central government in the last decade – though some of this has been made up for in part by other funding streams.
But Croydon’s funding formula started from a lower base than many other councils. Croydon gets just £228 of government funding per citizen, compared with the £450 paid to Lambeth for each of its citizens. It is not as if Croydon is without areas of deprivation, as well as a geographically larger area to serve.
If Croydon’s funding per person was brought up to Lambeth levels, my estimate is that it would mean another £65million per year that Croydon would have to spend on services and help for its residents. This would more than have covered the savings generated by the cutting of Council Tax support.
Such an increase in funding would also reduce the need for further cuts coming this year – including rumoured cuts to welfare benefits advice, which will be more necessary than ever as the impact of this year’s rises in energy bills (up 50per cent) hits harder as homes turn on their heating, alongside the high and rising rate of inflation.
But extra money from the government for public services – in Croydon or elsewhere – does seem unlikely under the new Truss regime. In her leadership campaign, Truss committed to “low tax” and “a lean state”.
In her acceptance speech as the new Tory leader on Monday, Truss promised that she would “deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024”, squashing rumours of an early General Election.
That has implications for Croydon, as boundary changes that should come into place by 2024 mean that our borough will go from having three parliamentary seats to three and a half.
A new Norwood constituency will take in part of Streatham, some of Croydon North and one ward in Croydon Central. The remaining parts of Croydon North will be added to Central’s Fairfield ward and bits from Croydon South (including Waddon) and part of the current Mitcham and Morden seat in the borough of Merton.
What we know as the Croydon Central seat loses one of its safest wards, Woodside, as well as Fairfield, and gets some Tory areas of Croydon South to become – at best for Labour – a very marginal seat in the next election.
Overall across the country, the boundary changes are expected to favour the Conservatives, another reason that Truss is unlikely to go for an early General Election, if she can wait for a more favourable political landscape.
But it is the economic landscape that will define the next election.
How Truss deals with the energy price crisis, stagnant growth, falling real wages and forecasted higher unemployment will define her premiership.
In the meantime, Croydon’s local council services desperately need a more generous funding settlement. Over to you, Mr Philp…
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher, pictured right, worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is the chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon in a personal capacity
Some of Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:
- Forde Report exposes racism, bullying and factionalism in Labour
- England’s Tories remain enthusiastic only about ground rent
- ‘No one wants strikes. But I’m happy to stand on the picket line’
- Five years ago, Labour showed how strong policies can inspire
- Tories’ sly stealth tax rises are ‘economically idiotic’ as inflation soars
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