Over a cliff: The Brexit bus, with all its claims of a new Golden Age for the UK, teeters on the edge. Boris Johnson, in the driver’s seat, says: “Boys? I’ve got an idea.” Then Philip Hammond walks up and pushes bus, Boris and Britain over the precipice.
Probably because there are very few people around with the economic expertise to know that outrage is the proper way to respond.
Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement – his first real contribution to UK politics as Chancellor of the Exchequer – was a long admission that the Conservative Party has ruined the country, hidden behind an attempt to blame it all on Brexit.
No, Philip; your party’s policies are responsible.
So it seems the UK is going to have to borrow an extra £59 billion – just to cover the cost to the country of Brexit.
This means the claim on the side of the famous red Brexit bus, that we could put £350 million a week into NHS services was definitely a lie. Let’s not beat around the bush any more – it was a lie and the people who made that statement are liars who cannot be trusted with anything.
Oh – but Boris Johnson, one of the arch-liars, is now Foreign Secretary and has a huge responsibility to deliver the best possible exit from the European Union for the population of the UK. Honestly, how do you think that’s going to work out?
We now know there will be less money available for the NHS and other public services than before, due to lower productivity growth (because foreign countries aren’t buying from us) and – yes – lower immigration.
Your wages and prosperity will suffer like never before, because of this. But I bet your right-wing neighbour still thinks immigrant-bashing is a worthwhile activity.
And all as a result of the vote for a Conservative Government last year.
It is worth emphasizing, as many commentators have, the almost-complete failure to mention the National Health Service or provide any more money for it, even though it is in a funding crisis of horrifying proportions. Mr Hammond says announcements about extra funding for the service have already been made, ignoring the fact that his government has not provided enough.
Perhaps one reason for this is the pitiful increase in public investment announced by Mr Hammond, at a time when interest rates are at an all-time low. There will never be a better time to borrow money and invest it in the UK’s infrastructure, but instead we’re getting 0.3 or 0.4 per cent of GDP, in each financial year leading up to 2020 – slightly more than from New Labour in the years before the financial crisis.
This tells us – although Mr Hammond will never say it aloud – that the Conservatives are continuing their squeeze on public services, started back in the dark days of the Coalition Parliament. One might say it is all part of the plan to take everything away from public hands, as started by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies back in 1979 – if only one had the experience and understanding to see that far.
There’s more – we could discuss the hidden policy not to increase fuel duty, that throws out all the economic predictions but gives the Tories a favourable headline in their poodle press; or we could mention the new fiscal rules which set the scene for panic cuts in public investment as we approach the now-fixed (rather than rolling) date for the deficit to be cut back to a new level set by Mr Hammond.
But it is all too depressing, really.
Someone recently said that, with a May as prime minister and a Hammond as chancellor, all we need is a Clarkson for the UK’s government to emulate the former Top Gear presenting team, now relegated to internet TV on their Grand Tour. It is true that Clarkson once considered standing in the 2015 election.
Some might consider that a good idea – a brand behind which to market the UK’s flailing government.
But let’s be honest: Clarkson, Hammond and May were successful because they presented themselves as three petrol-headed idiots.
With May, Hammond and Boris Johnson in the UK’s driving seat, we don’t need any marketing.
We already know they are idiots. Sadly, we also know that their calamities won’t just be television entertainment – we’ll have to live with the consequences.
But the response to the Autumn Statement has been muted. Some have even claimed that John McDonnell was wrong to challenge it by demanding more investment.
This is because we do not – as a nation – know enough about economics. Otherwise we would be on the streets in front of Parliament, right now, demanding a change of direction – or a change of government.
David Cameron’s New Year message – what a disgrace!
Standing uncomfortably in an empty factory (one presumes the workers were all on part-time contracts to save bosses money in holiday pay and national insurance), the comedy Prime Minister looked nervous as he reeled off a list of statements the Conservative Party wants the proles to believe, going into 2014.
What a shame his words were so easy to debunk.
If you can bear to hear it, play the video (above). I did, and wrote the following response in real time – as his speech was taking place. Then I sent it to his Facebook page. Here are my words:
“When you weren’t elected into office, the economy was on the up – and your policies killed it stone dead for three years. You haven’t cut the deficit significantly for years (it’s been stuck at £120 billion or thereabouts). You have cut income tax for the super-rich; raising the tax allowance for the poor (which you claim is a cut) means they don’t pay National Insurance (if anybody hadn’t noticed) and it will take them longer to qualify for retirement pension.
“You only decided to cut fuel duty because Labour came out with a better policy – and nobody was fooled by your choice.
“The jobs created under your government are part-time, zero-hours, or fake ‘self-employed’ in which the worker is contracted to larger companies and receives lower-than-minimum-wages for the amount of time spent. Stop talking nonsense about ‘jobs taxes’ – all this does is show that you do not understand the principles behind National Insurance.
“How many people did your ‘welfare’ work kill last year? We don’t know because your Department for Work and Pensions is terrified that releasing the figures will cause a national scandal.
“As for your immigration policy – apart from the tangential tightening of monitoring around the minimum wage, all your new measures are already enshrined in law; you have created phantom solutions to a phantom problem.
“Building an economy for people who work hard and “play by the rules”, is it? There’s a new condition in there, and people should be warned that your rules are not intended to benefit hard-working people but to free their employers from any responsibility towards those who generate their bloated salaries for them.
“I’m surprised you didn’t choke on your comments about education, after the fiasco that has led to the closure of one free school and special measures for several others.
“As far as the Scottish referendum is concerned, if any government, through its policies, could do more to push an entire country out of the United Kingdom, I don’t see how.
“I look forward to your response on the welfare deaths. In 2011 they stood at 73 per week, which was a scandal at the time. New figures will show whether you have been merely misguided or intentionally genocidal.
“Happy New Year? It will be a lot happier if you and your entire Parliamentary party resigned. How many of them know anything about struggling to make ends meet, in debt and in a place where there are no jobs to be had?
“You know nothing about hard work.”
Did anyone else notice he said nothing about the National Health Service, that his government has brought down from its most popular and efficient moment ever – slandering it and legislating to ensure private profit-driven firms could get into it, turning it away from healthcare and into money generation?
If ever there was a time to fight back for our cherished publicly-funded institutions, it is now.
That is the real message we should take from this soulless mouthpiece and his empty words.
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A moment of crisis for David Cameron as he realises it is unlikely that George Osborne has the faintest idea what the Autumn Statement means.
If anybody else had prattled on for 50 minutes while hardly uttering a single sensible word, they would have been consigned to a mental hospital forthwith.
But this is Coalition Britain, and the speaker was George Osborne, the man who likes to tell us all that he is in charge of the nation’s finances. Thanks to his government’s Department for Work and Pensions, nobody is allowed to have mental illnesses anymore; after this speech, it seems likely we all have an idea about the reason for that.
A 50-minute speech is a lot of verbiage, and it is certain that worthier journalists across Britain – if not the world – have already analysed it to exhaustion. Allow me to let you into a secret:
They’re probably trying too hard.
Most of the speech was about putting Labour down. The Opposition has made all the headway over the past few weeks, and we all knew Osborne was under orders to change the mood music of the nation in time for Christmas.
Did he manage it? Not really. His speeches always come across as strained events, where he’s making an effort to be clever without ever achieving it. As a result, the message gets lost. We can therefore discount the Labour-bashing.
That leaves us with what he actually said. Even here, his meaning was at times opaque. What follows is an attempt to provide a handy guide to George-speak, for anyone unfortunate enough to have heard him yesterday.
Osborne: “We have held our nerve while those who predicted there would be no growth until we turned the spending taps back on have been proved comprehensively wrong.”/Meaning:“I am lying. Austerity failed miserably and the economy flatlined. A few months ago I realised that we would have nothing to show at election time so I turned the spending taps back on, with Help To Buy and Funding For Lending. I know that these are exactly the sort of Keynesian economic levers that I preached against for three years but I’m hoping that nobody noticed.”
The hard work of the British people is paying off, and we will not squander their efforts./Osborne appears to be celebrating his three years of stagnation. He inherited growth and decided to trash it. (MagsNews on Twitter)
There was no double-dip recession./“Phew! Lucky escape there!”
At the time of the Budget in March, the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast that growth this year would be 0.6 per cent. Today, it more than doubles that forecast and the estimate for growth will be 1.4 per cent./“Please God don’t let anybody remember that three years ago, the forecast for this year was 2.9 per cent.”
Today in Britain, employment is at an all-time high… We have the lowest proportion of workless households for 17 years./These jobs have increased the numbers of the working poor. Too few are full-time; too many are part-time, zero-hours or self-employed, serving up no National Insurance contributions from employers, no holiday or sick pay, or making contractors work long hours for less than the minimum wage.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen by more than 200,000 in the past six months—the largest such fall for 16 years./“And we have imposed sanctions on more people on Jobseekers’ Allowance than ever before, in order to produce that figure.”
By 2018-19, on this measure, the OBR does not expect a deficit at all. Instead, it expects Britain to run a small surplus. These numbers mean that the Government will meet their fiscal mandate to bring the structural current budget into balance and meet it one year early./Although of course the books were initially supposed to be balanced by 2015. (Huffington Post live blog)
This year, we will borrow £111 billion, which is £9 billion less than was feared in March./…and £41 billion more than forecast in 2010.
We will cap overall welfare spending./But this will not include the state pension (half the social security budget) or the most cyclical jobseeker benefits./”A living wage would mean less dosh on in-work benefits; letting councils build would mean less subsidies for private landlords.” (Owen Jones on Twitter)
Pensioners will be more than £800 better off every year./But as usual he’s ignoring the VAT elephant in the room. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)
We think that a fair principle is that, as now, people should expect to spend up to a third of their adult lives in retirement. Based on the latest life expectancy figures, applying that principle would mean an increase in the state pension age to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s./But life expectancy depends on where you live and how much money you have, meaning the poor continue to pay more towards the pensions of the rich./”Current pensioners better off – future pensioners paying for it. What was that about “making our kids pay for current spending” George?” (Mark Ferguson of LabourList on Twitter)
Most wealthy people pay their taxes and make a huge contribution to funding our public services; the latest figures show that 30 per cent of all income tax is paid by just one per cent of taxpayers./Estimates of the amount of tax that is not collected range between £25-£120 billion per year and it is not the poor who aren’t paying up.
This year the rich pay a greater share of the nation’s income taxes than was the case in any year under the last Labour Government./Because they now have more income. Simple really. (Tom Clark of The Guardian, on Twitter)
Today we set out in detail the largest package of measures to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, fraud and error so far this Parliament. Together it will raise over £9 billion over the next five years./Including capital gains tax for foreign investors on sales of UK property, which has nothing to do with tax avoidance/evasion, fraud or error.
We must confront this simple truth: if we want more people to own a home, we have to build more homes… The latest survey data showed residential construction growing at its fastest rate for a decade./The rate of house building is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s
This autumn statement has found the financial resources to fund the expansion of free school meals to all school children in reception, year 1 and year 2, announced by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by me./On Wednesday, the Lib Dems and Michael Gove’s education department argued over who had to pay for it.
Extra funding will be provided to science, technology, and engineering courses [in universities]. The new loans will be financed by selling the old student loan book, allowing thousands more to achieve their potential./And pushing thousands into the hands of debt collectors.
The best way to help business is by lowering the burden of tax. KPMG’s report last week confirmed for the second year running that Britain has the most competitive business tax system in the world./KPMG would know – it writes the tax system and also runs some of the larger tax avoidance schemes.
From April 2015 we will introduce a new transferable tax allowance for married couples… Four million families will benefit, many of them among the poorest working families in our country./Osborne says the Tories are backing British Families – but only ones who are married it seems. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)/While the new tax arrangements bribe families to marry, the benefit cap will bribe big families to split up. (Tom Clark on Twitter)
We are all in this together./The biggest lie of this Parliament.
We are also helping families with their energy bills./Commence the cutting of the “green crap”. This from the “Greenest government ever”. (Mark Ferguson on Twitter)
Next year’s fuel duty rise will be cancelled./This is a cut in a tax that was never imposed in the first place.
We are going to abolish the jobs tax on young people under the age of 21. Employer national insurance contributions will be removed altogether on a million and a half jobs for young people./Young people will therefore have less chance to get contribution-based benefit. National Insurance assures people their pension contributions – except when it isn’t paid. So they will have no contributions to show for any years they worked before 21 and will have to work until their late 60s.
The cost for a business of employing a young person on a salary of £12,000 will fall by over £500./This is a bonus for businesses, not employees.
“Jobs tax” – it’s ludicrous, isn’t it? National Insurance has been a respected part of British life for more than 100 years but Osborne, living as he does in a mythical Victorian-era golden age that never actually existed, thinks it is a “jobs tax”. Either that or he’s still bruised by the fact that Labour’s labelling of the under-occupation charge as a Bedroom Tax caught on with the public.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls got on his feet and immediately attacked Osborne’s “breathtaking complacency” for denying the drop in living standards faced by everyone in the country, with families already £1,600 per year worse off. Osborne laughed. He thought that was funny.
The Shadow Chancellor pointed out that we are enduring the slowest recovery in a century, and that average real wages will have dropped by 5.8 per cent by the end of the Parliament (except for fatcat business bosses).
He was having a hard time getting his points across, however, because Tory MPs were heckling him very loudly. Owen Jones tweeted, appositely, “Do the Tories think that a bunch of braying MPs dripping with privilege, while ordinary people’s living standards crash, is good TV?”
Maybe they did. Maybe they thought they had the public on their side.
Let’s have a look at a few comments from the public – courtesy of the Huffington Post:
“Planning to kill more people, George?” (Robin Stacey)
“Spend more you wet lipped monkey.” (Will Moriarty)
“No one has an ounce of faith in anything you say, you parasitic pool of curdled warthog’s puke.” (Anthony Nicholas)
And finally: “Hope you end the speech with your resignation x” (Joanne Wood – and yes, she did mean to end with a kiss).
What a shame Osborne did not follow her advice.
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After the barrage of new policy plans from the Labour Party last week, David Cameron’s big revelation, at the end of the most disappointing Conservative conference since – well – the last one, is a hint that the Tories want to take benefits away from anyone under 25 who isn’t in work or education, if they win in 2015?
More repression, then. In a speech that we’re asked to believe is about making the UK a land of opportunity, of aspiration? A “land of hope and Tory”?
Land of hopeless Tories, more like!
Let’s look at those options. Put someone aged between 16 and 25 back into education and you put them into debt (unless they have very rich parents) – we have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that, after they betrayed their own manifesto promise and supported a massive increase in student fees.
Force them into work and its an employer’s market, isn’t it? They can hire or fire under any conditions they like – and the minimum wage will be no problem. You don’t like zero-hours contracts? Too bad – it’s a choice between being listed as employed but unlikely to get any paying work, or losing the pittance you live on anyway. Part-time wages putting you into debt? You’ll be homeless a lot faster without any benefits!
Whatever happens, of course, the benefit bill comes down and fewer people are classed as unemployed.
Just like George Osborne’s plan to put the long-term jobless on indefinite Workfare, this will falsify the employment figures to make it seem the Conservatives have improved the economy when in fact they are making matters worse.
The rest of it was a web of lies and waffle. It has been suggested that Cameron wanted to re-use his speech from last year, rewriting it minimally in the hope that nobody would notice, and that it would be worth finding out if this is true – but that would not get to the heart of the matter, which is that the Conservative Party has completely run out of momentum.
They’re at a dead stop and all they have to support them is falsehood.
Cameron’s speech started with a claim that the Tories are on the side of “hardworking” (it’s hard-working, David – learn some English) people. While he waffled, I had a look at some of the Tory slogans and tried to match some facts to the claims. So we have:
“A tax cut for 25m people” – but they put the cost of living up and wages down so “hardworking” people are worse-off.
“The deficit down by a third” – two years ago. It has been years since they made any notable progress.
“More private sector jobs” – that don’t pay “hardworking” people a bean because they’re part-time or zero-hours. They have also cut the public sector – and given those jobs to people on Workfare.
“Welfare capped” – so poor people are forced towards destitution or suicide
“Crime down” – because police are discouraged from recording crimes against “hardworking” people?
“Immigration down” – because the UK isn’t attractive to “hardworking” foreign people any more.
To these, Cameron added:
“Helping young people buy their own home” – by creating a debt bubble and asking the taxpayer to foot the bill.
“Getting the long-term unemployed back to work” – in order to falsify employment statistics.
“Freezing fuel duty” – and doing nothing about the huge, unjustified, price increases demanded by energy companies.
“Backing marriage” – with less than 20p a day for the poor.
“Creating wealth” – for whom?
“We are clearing up the mess that Labour left” – Labour didn’t leave a mess. Bankers left the mess. Why have the bankers not been cleaned up? Why has Mr Cameron thrown money at them instead?
He referred to the fact that Theresa May (finally managed to have Abu Qatada deported. She wants to get rid of the Human Rights Act, claiming it is necessary if the government is to be able to – among other things – deport suspected terrorists, right? So her action has proved that repealing an Act that protects the rights of British citizens isn’t necessary.
“Who protected spending on the NHS? Not Labour – us.” Wrong. At last count, spending on the NHS under the Conservative-led coalition was down. The plan was to spend £12.7 billion more by May 2015, but by December last year this meant the government needed to find more than £13 billion for this purpose.
He referred to the Mid Staffs hospital scandal as a Labour disaster – look to the Skwawkbox blog for the facts (hint: it’s not as clear-cut as Cameron pretended).
“When the world wanted rights, who wrote Magna Carta?” he said in all hypocrisy. Is he telling us the British people – who demanded those rights in the first place – are now demanding that he divest us of those same rights by repealing the Human Rights Act?
“When they looked for compassion, who led the abolition of slavery?” Fine words from a man whose lieutenant, Iain Duncan Smith, has been working hard to restore slavery for the unemployed, sick and disabled – even going to the lengths of pushing through a retrospective law, after his rules were found to be illegal.
“Whose example of tolerance – of people living together from every nation, every religion, young and old, straight and gay – whose example do they aspire to?” Perhaps someone should point him to his Home Secretary’s advertising vans, which preached intolerance of anyone who wasn’t demonstrably white and British by encourage people on the street to tell anyone else to “go home” in what Owen Jones called the language of knuckle-dragging racists.
His plea for Scotland to remain in the UK must have seemed particularly hypocritical, as the man who has passed more divisive policies than any other Prime Minister, possibly in British history, called for “Our Kingdom – United”.
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