As this Tory MP goes on a poverty tour, it’s clear she still doesn’t get it

Heidi Allen
Support us and go ad-free

The cautionary tales of Hilaire Belloc speak of a young lord who failed at politics because he was “far too freely moved to tears”. A century later, the same could not be said of the notably damp-of-eye Conservative MP, Heidi Allen. But the cause of Allen’s emotional wobbles is not sharp remarks from other members. Rather, it seems to be tales of the reality of life under Tory austerity that really set her off.


‘Allen welled up as she recounted stories of foodbank users’, or something similar, seems to be on the clipboard of every journalist. The MP for highly affluent South Cambridgeshire is a Ctrl+V away from being the daily Voice of Concern. And now she’s embarking on a tour of the nation’s poor places, alongside independent MP Frank Field, formerly of Labour. Together they want to “blow the lid off” UK poverty and “show the government this exists”. Expect tears.

I’m not saying she doesn’t mean it. The harsh realities that turn her taps on are genuinely moving and shocking. We should question the soul of anyone who doesn’t react with raw emotion.

But I do think she’s a monumentally long way from actually understanding the problem. And therefore, is she really the right person to be trying to address it?

Seeing half the problem

Allen is very good at noticing the symptoms of hardship. It’s good that she speaks about such things. But she’s much less good at identifying the causes. The poverty and destitution she describes isn’t something that’s just fallen out of the sky. It’s not the result of a bad harvest or angry gods. It’s the logical result of nearly nine years of Tory-led austerity. George Osborne’s scorched earth approach to public spending. Iain Duncan Smith’s cultural revolution in turning the DWP from a body designed to help to one hell-bent on cutting payouts. Theresa May’s all-encompassing hostile environment. These things have consequences. And those consequences make Heidi Allen cry.

Vote like you mean it

It would be a little unfair to hold Allen responsible for decisions taken before she entered parliament in 2015. But it’s certainly fair to ask why, after five years of the calamitous coalition, anyone with a heart would be standing on a Tory ticket. Allen made a conscious decision to ally herself with the likes of Duncan Smith.

Once in her seat, there were signs that Allen might seek to ‘reform from within’, as the saying goes. Her maiden speech railed against Osborne’s cuts to tax credits. Did the Tories have a rebel in their midst? No. When the vote came, she sided with the government. She didn’t want to NOT cut tax credits, it seemed. Just do it a bit more quietly and carefully. There was a definite sense that it was ‘how it would come across’ that was her main concern. Not the fact that cutting tax credits would punish exactly the kind of working but not wealthy people the Tories laughably pretend to care about.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

This voting pattern has continued. Allen has “generally voted” to reduce benefit spending. What does she think will happen? That somehow she’s ‘making work pay’? Her votes have helped make people poorer whether they’re out of work or in work. Ash Sarkar is exactly right to say that Allen has got no grounds for “acting surprised”.

Simple solution

Allen seems to think that her poverty tour will uncover a previously ‘unseen’ Britain. Newsflash: we could already see it. Some of us are staring it in the face. Some of us are in it. Many of us warned about this sort of thing happening if the modern Conservative Party of David Cameron, Osborne and May was allowed into power in 2010. Few of us predicted the full scale of the damage to people’s lives.

But Allen apparently fails to appreciate the size of the problem. On the first day of her tour, she sought to comfort a foodbank user. “You must feel like the world is spiralling around you”, she empathised. “It’s two steps forward and one and a half back”. And that’s false Tory optimism in a nutshell. ‘Yes, we know it’s hard, but keep trying and you’ll gradually inch forward’. The system is broken. The country is broken. The defining pattern of Tory Britain has, at best, been ‘one step forward, two steps back’.

Heidi Allen, if you want to do something useful, you’ll acknowledge your role in getting us to this point. You’ll start voting against every evil policy of this wretched government. Maybe you’ll leave the Conservative Party. I really don’t care. Just start helping the real work of mending the country. Today.

Featured image via Facebook – Channel 4 News

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us