Did I hear that right? Did Philip Hammond tell the Tory conference he is abandoning George Osborne’s silly race to clear the national deficit by 2020?
Chancellor Philip Hammond has said he will prioritise spending on new homes and transport rather than following his predecessor George Osborne’s aim to balance the books by 2020.
I did! He did!
He told the Conservative conference the deficit was still too large and would need to be tackled “in due course”.
But he said the Brexit vote may cause “turbulence” and business confidence would be on a “bit of a rollercoaster”.
He said that it was “common sense” to invest to support growth and jobs.
So former Chancellor George Osborne’s record is now in tatters, just like that of his Brexit-baiting buddy David Cameron.
Commentators on the BBC News were admitting that nobody ever took that aim seriously in any event.
But there’s a sting in the tail – Hammond isn’t abandoning austerity.
In fact, when you look at his speech, it’s full of doom and gloom.
Not only will we have to put up with years more of Tory austerity cuts, meaning they are now planning to have been slashing state spending for 12 years, non-stop, before easing off (the original claim was that it would all be over by 2015) –
Not only is the reason for the extra agony the effect of former prime minister David Cameron’s vanity project – the EU referendum he hoped would unite his rowing backbenchers behind the European project but was used by the public as a vote of ‘no confidence’ in his own leadership –
But these Tories have the bare-faced cheek to try to steal Labour policies in order to steady the ship of state that they have steered so dangerously onto the rocks.
They will borrow heavily to spend on infrastructure projects – exactly as the Labour Party plans to do if it wins the next general election.
Hammond has denied trying to steal Labour’s thunder – he said the Tory plans were “pragmatic and measured” while Labour’s plan to borrow £500 billion was “la-la land”.
But the Conservatives have already borrowed far, far more than £500 billion since they took office as part of the Coalition government, six years ago.
The national debt has risen from £960 billion in April 2010 to more than £1.6 trillion now.
The Tories have borrowed more than £600 billion and don’t seem to have paid a penny of it back.
Perhaps that’s why Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “It’s clear that Phillip Hammond is now borrowing from Labour to invest in his own speech.
“He has had to abandon the failed economic agenda of the last six years, an approach which has seen them dragging their heels on tax avoidance, an increase in child poverty, and house-building falling to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s.
“”There is clearly still a need for increased investment in our economy to equip our country for the future after Brexit, as well to overcome the last six years of Tory under-investment, but if they pursue a ‘Hard Brexit’ strategy we know that the Tories will continue to make working families pay for their failure.”
That’s true. Hammond mentioned in his speech that families have been working hard to pay off the nation’s debts – debts incurred by irresponsible bankers who played silly games with our money because a previous Tory government had remove the burden of regulation from them.
So: The Tories have dug themselves into a very deep hole and are busy dragging the rest of us in with them…
… And they’ve as good as admitted that Labour offers the only way out.
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