Unless you’ve been in hibernation for years, you’ll have noticed that the past decade in the UK can be summarised by one word: austerity. The Conservatives, led by David Cameron and sidekick George Osborne, told the British public that the belts had to be tightened as savings had to be made. Osborne announced in the House of Commons that “we’re all in this together”.
The cuts were applied most heavily in the corner of society where there was very little to cut to begin with. Disability benefits were reduced and benefit applicants were subjected to humiliating tick box exercises with the sole aim to take their benefits away. Public services that many people rely on were reduced to shades of their former selves; libraries were closed, social care services reduced to their bare bones and pay increases for public servants were stopped.
Where the hits have not been felt is in government circles, where one scandal after the next has come out – all involving gross misuse of public funds by members of the Conservative government: Boris Johnson gave tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money to his mistress, Jennifer Arcuri. Home Secretary Priti Patel used nearly £80,000 of public funds on getting her eyebrows done, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick let Tory donor Richard Desmond get away with not paying millions in taxes and Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a £30 million government contract for Covid test kits to his former pub landlord.
To top it all off, former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied senior government officials (including Chancellor Rishi Sunak) to let Greensill Capital (his new employer) get their hands on government-backed loans (i.e. taxpayer money) worth hundreds of millions. Had the deal happened, David Cameron would have made £60 million (again, consisting entirely of taxpayer money). The taxpayer may praise themselves lucky that this deal did not materialise, given that Greensill Capital has gone bust last month and billions of public money could have disappeared into thin air.
Labour leader Keir Starmer branded the revelations the ‘return of Tory Sleaze’, after which these words trended on Twitter for days. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the majority of the British public will care enough to let the Conservatives pay dearly for this in the next elections.
From my own (Dutch) perspective, it is incomprehensible that scandals of this magnitude do not cause immediate and lasting damage to the politicians involved. The future of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte currently hangs in the balance as he may have made mention of giving a ‘difficult’ member of parliament a ‘job elsewhere’. This scandal pales in comparison to these aforementioned scandals in British politics.
For now, the repercussions are virtually none – all perpetrators remain unpunished and are still in office. It appears that the hashtag #TorySleaze must remain trending for the years to come. Otherwise, the Sleaze will take over British politics entirely.