Conservatives are on their way out. And they know it – Christine Jardine

As the dust has begun to settle on the latest of this year’s budgets, it has become a little clearer exactly what the cost of the past few months of chaos will be. At least in financial terms.

The wider impact of not just 2022 but the past six years is only just becoming evident. As it does so, it becomes more difficult not to see our journey to this challenging place as having started the day the Leave campaigners jumped on that big red bus with the lie on the side.

I know it was a democratic decision and we lost the argument for a confirmatory referendum. But why can’t they see it yet? I have listened for months now to a series of Prime Ministers and Chancellors blame “global events”. The pandemic and its economic impact. The war in Ukraine and Russia’s weaponising of the energy market.

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Even the calamitous misstep of their own colleagues’ while temporarily in Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street has been acknowledged. But there is still that one which they really don’t want to admit to. Brexit.

Yes, I know the B word is not fashionable these days, unless of course, you are a nationalist looking for a fresh false promise for your own disastrous Leave campaign. But I believe that it is time to say it loudly and clearly. Brexit was a mistake and it’s to blame for much of what we are going through just now.

Those who genuinely believed it was the best route for the country have been badly let down by the politicians who persuaded them that they could deliver. They could not and they have not. And all of us are paying a very heavy price for their miscalculation.

Like every other problem in life, the first step to a solution is in admitting what you’ve done wrong. It’s time the government admitted that shortages of bus drivers, baggage handlers, fruit pickers, care workers, doctors and dentists might not be so bad if it wasn’t making it difficult and unpleasant for our European neighbours to work here.

Ridiculous though this might sound, if we still had freedom of movement we might not be asking for special visas for so many employment sectors right now and there might be people to drive buses into the city from Queensferry. Businesses might not be struggling to replace both staff and export markets now made more difficult to access by leaving.

The winds of political change look set to blow the Conservative party out of power (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)The winds of political change look set to blow the Conservative party out of power (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The winds of political change look set to blow the Conservative party out of power (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Of course, the impact might not have been as bad if it hadn't been for the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. But this government cannot continue to hide behind them and use them like some poor taste disguise for their own shortcomings.

It is not simply that there have been crises to deal with but that they have dealt with them so badly. This past week has been a case in point.

On Thursday what the country needed to hear from the Chancellor was a fair plan to get us through this cost-of-living crisis. We are facing the biggest ever fall in our standard of living and the officials of the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed that we are already in recession. The economy is shrinking.

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We needed the government to acknowledge the impact of their mismanagement and address the spiralling mortgage and rental charges which heap misery on top of that caused by the fear of the winter’s energy bills. To put in place a proper windfall tax of the extra profits of fossil fuel giants to offset the cost of ordinary people’s energy bills.

A mortgage protection fund for those at risk of losing their homes, and a comprehensive package of support for renters paid for by reversing the unfair tax cuts big banks have had since 2016. And protection for vital public services.

Instead of which we have eye-watering tax hikes and real terms cuts to those public services. The cost to the country of the government cutting taxes on the banks is a staggering £18 billion.

Meanwhile, energy bills will go up by £500 on average next year and the stealth tax on the personal allowance will mean basic-rate taxpayers coughing up an extra £340. A typical middle-income family with two people working will pay £3,400 more in income tax in 2027-28 due to this budget while the Bank of England has warned that the typical mortgage holder exiting their fixed-term deal this year will face a £3,000 hit over the next 12 months.

It’s not exactly a pretty picture that the three iterations of Conservative government since that Brexit vote have created. But there is, I feel, one glimmer of hope of the horizon. There is now, even among many Conservatives, an acknowledgement that it is time for change. That it is in some ways inevitable.

Those of us old enough to remember will recognise it from the run-up to the 1997 election when it just became clear that the time had come for something different. Then it was Tony Blair and New Labour.

Now it may well be Keir Starmer unless the Conservatives can somehow come up with some unprecedented and paradigm changing shift in British politics. The sort of historic realignment we saw in 1922. As it stands that seems unlikely.

What also seems unlikely is that a people suffering the impact of leaving one economic union and single trading market would opt for leaving another, regardless of how beguiling the SNP and Green coalition might make their dressed-up version of a ‘Scexit’ sound. Once bitten as they say.

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West



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