Just in time for Christmas, the drumbeat of Brexit economic bad news rolls on. Today’s figures from the Office for National Statistics shows inflation has risen to a near six-year high at an eye-watering 3.1 per cent. This means everything from food, to fuel, to transport, to clothing is becoming more and more expensive. The ONS doesn’t beat around the bush about why inflation is soaring: the main reason is quite clearly the collapse in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote last year. And with average wage growth running well below the rate of inflation, real wages will continue to fall meaning less money in your pocket at the end of each month.
The government is desperately trying to spin the Brexit agreement, but the truth is that it amounts to little more than a series of concessions, fudges and capitulations. For the Prime Minister and the Brexiteers the Brexit process has been like a voyage of discovery that starts in fantasy land, invariably involves a lot of bluster and posturing along the way, but always seems to lead inexorably to the same destination: capitulation.
While the snow delights children and Instagram users, it is confirmation for our NHS staff that winter is most definitely here. Already hospitals have had to divert patients away because of over-capacity and 20,000 patients were stuck in the back of an ambulance for over 30 minutes in a period of just two weeks.
The state of the NHS under the Tories gets worse each day with ever-lengthening queues of the sick as waiting lists climb beyond four million. Last year 2.5 million people waited more than four hours in A&E, while over 560,000 people were designated as “trolley waits” because of acute bed shortages.
Austerity for the NHS has meant the biggest financial squeeze in its history, public health budgets cut and social care slashed severely by billions.
So the facts are in. The Tories have given us a recovery that is worse than the one in the 1930s that followed the Great Depression. And families won’t see any improvement in living standards until 2022. That’s why we should set a new ambition for Britain: to become the world’s leading digital economy.
Today there are just 1.5 million jobs in the digital economy. That’s about 4% of the workforce. But here’s the key point: digital jobs pay 40% more than the average wage. That’s more than £190 a week. So transforming the number of digital jobs in our economy is one of the fastest ways we can give Britain a pay rise.
At last, the government realises how important the customs union and single market are to our future
The European Union’s communiques are always a delight for the Kremlinologists of politics, who miss the days when reading between the lines of Soviet statements was an art form in itself. But this morning, the EU, ably assisted by Theresa May, outdid itself with a statement of such creative ambiguity that it had been spun and translated six ways to Sunday before the ink was even dry. A victory for May, supported by Arlene Foster, welcomed by the taoiseach, delivering for the EU: its dexterity and elasticity has been dizzying to behold.
This week has proven to be the great unravelling of the government’s Brexit promises, when fantasy met reality and they were left stuck between a rock and a hard border. It’s a week in which the clock is ticking, not only in Brexit negotiations but likely the premiership of Theresa May.
The Tory tug of war is set to enter a critical few days. May is going to have to make a decision this week on the Irish question that both honours the government’s responsibility as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and manages the politics of her colleagues. This is potentially the most critical week in the negotiations and the hard Brexiteers know it.
The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, has told the Daily Mail: “I do not believe that any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should ever be allowed back into this country … we should … destroy and eliminate that threat.” When asked to clarify how he intends to deal with British citizens who fought for Isis, he confirmed that his default position was to kill them.
Williamson’s comments are at best naive – the hubris of someone insufficiently experienced for their position. But at worst they are morally, legally and practically wrong. They imply a desire for extrajudicial killing to form part of Britain’s security policy. This is so radical a departure from all that we should value, and the way that we should conduct ourselves, that it is hard even to countenance.
Today, against a background of reduced funding, change on a huge scale is being driven through our NHS by groups (Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPS)) that have no legal basis, have a leadership that is unelected and unaccountable, operating mostly in secret.
There is no doubt that Wednesday 22 November will be remembered as the day of the budget. However, buried beneath the undoubtedly important headlines about the state of our economy was the news that, last winter, 34,300 people died unnecessarily because of the cold weather. This is a national disgrace.
Since I first raised this issue with David Cameron in 2012, there have been more than 150,000 excess winter deaths. There has been no noticeable improvement in reducing the number of people dying from the cold in the last 20 years. This lack of progress is simply not good enough.
There may well be an energy price cap on its way. If that sounds a little cautious, it is intended to be. After all, the ‘price cap’ that has now been announced by the government is a result of some history of wobbles and equivocation about whether there should be a price cap at all.
It was mentioned as a commitment in the Conservative manifesto. Theresa May apparently then went cold on the idea, only to revive it at the Conservative party conference.