John Harris

Journalist & Author

The shameless Tories have betrayed the self-employed – and themselves | John Harris

It’s a cynical Conservative trick: the budget exposed a party happy to help the big company bosses while penalising the little people

Superficially it looks like the rightwing press falling into yet another fit of specious morality. The morning after the budget, newspaper pages brimmed with testimony from sole traders and small-business owners, as if Philip Hammond’s budget pushed them to the brink of destitution. By contrast, there have been no tears for young people about to be denied housing benefit, nor the millions of people hit by drastic programmes of forced council cuts that continue apace. So, even if the headlines are a scream – witness the Sun’s “Spite Van Man”, or the Star’s inspired “Rob the Builder” – isn’t this classic Fleet Street cant?

Clearly, pushing up class 4 national insurance contributions and thereby squeezing an average of 60p a week from the self-employed is hardly a howling injustice. There again – and apologies to any outraged lefties for this point, but it’s true – most voters are not directly affected by howling injustices. Instead, what often counts in politics is the spectacle of people being riled by this or that example of clumsy tinkering, particularly if any proposed change has some symbolic resonance. And this one does, in spades.

Related: Budget 2017: Hammond rejects charge he broke Tory manifesto promise

Related: ‘This is grossly unfair’: self-employed readers react to NICs increase

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