James Gray, Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, wasn’t terribly popular a couple of years ago, even with Tories. He somehow survived deselection after admitting cheating on his wife while she battled cancer and charging a Remembrance Day wreath to his expenses. But here in the blue heartland of England, once he had been selected, he was always going to win. And now he is back in Westminster, he is showing all of his traditional sensitivity towards his poorer constituents and small businesses following the budget.
In his latest column in local paper, the Gazette & Herald, Gray contrasts the public dismay at England’s exit from the football, with what he perceives to be the overwhelming glee felt at the budget. The tone of the piece betrays his unfettered joy at the cuts to public services and VAT hike to come. He suggests people were saying “bring it on” to an increase in VAT, despite widespread acceptance (even by David Cameron), that VAT hits the poor hardest. I wonder whether he ever bothers to venture outside the confines of North Wilts Conservative Club and talks to people who are worried about the impact of the VAT rise combined with a savage ideological assault on public services.
The sickening Tory rhetoric of us “all being in this together” sounds so hollow coming from an extraordinarily privileged man like Gray. He’s abused his position of influence and cannot muster the grace to recognise that for most people, cutting vital public services by 25% is not “no problem”. Turn the page in the paper and there’s a piece from a local accountancy firm suggesting small businesses will go under because of the VAT rise. Gray’s not interested. He’s relieved that CGT has only gone up slightly, letting his wealthy friends off the hook. He calls the budget “masterful”. I expect Tories of his ilk to revel in the destruction of the lives of the poor and needy. I thought he may have had the discretion to keep this nauseating excitement to himself. Instead he parades it in the paper. But then I suppose tact, humility and decency have never been his strong points.
The delusion of Gray is staggering. He even has the temerity to suggest that “there was no spinning or expectation management of the budget”. I can only assume he has people to read the paper for him. Every broadsheet ran an almost word-perfect preview of the key aspects on the morning of the budget. Did anyone in country not know that the VAT rise was coming? It’s hard to imagine a more leaked budget statement in modern history.
The measures in the budget will not be like a “belt-tightening diet” after Christmas, James. For people who rely on public services, welfare support or social housing it will be cataclysmic. Small businesses could be devastated by the VAT rise. The hundreds of thousands of newly-unemployed people will have their lives blighted by a budget driven not by necessity, but by a purely ideological attack on the state. A changed Conservative Party, moderated by the Lib Dems? Not here, and not in many places like here. Not in the ivory tower of James Gray, where the nasty party is alive, kicking and enjoying every minute.