What an embarrassment: George Osborne’s silly ideas about the economy are enough to make anybody red-faced.
You probably won’t find the failure of the Conservative-led Coalition government laid out any more bluntly than this.
Speaking at Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands today (Monday), Ed Balls said George Osborne had failed to reduce the national deficit because of disappointing tax revenues.
“To make up that shortfall, George Osborne has now said he is going to carry on with even bigger spending cuts in the next parliament,” he said, adding that this will result in the biggest cuts in public services over the next five years in any country around the world.
“I don’t think that plan is remotely credible,” said Mr Balls.
Osborne cut public spending hard because he believed the claims of an academic thesis that has long-since been disproved, by Reinhart and Rogoff, that suggested states should not allow their national debt to rise above 90 per cent of GDP.
The result is clear: He stalled the UK economy.
The only way Osborne was able to get the UK moving again was by creating a new housing bubble (which is yet to burst) and by enabling employers to make real-terms cuts in wages, in what amounts to a fiddle of the employment figures.
But tax receipts don’t lie. Despite claims that we have more people in work now than ever before in history, the Treasury is taking less money.
And Osborne’s idea for regeneration is to repeat the strategy that stalled the economy in the first place?
Damning: The graph by the House of Commons Library, showing how earnings have plummeted since Cameron’s Coa-lamity government came into office.
David Cameron must be so proud. He wanted a return to the Victorian era and that is exactly what he has achieved.
Wages have nosedived, meaning the gap between the richest and poorest is larger than it has ever been; we already know that diseases once thought long-gone are stalking our streets once again while the National Health Service has been bled to the point of death; and the welfare state is in critical condition, with people who have paid into the system all their lives bullied out of claiming benefits when they are needed and sent back to die in their homes.
This is David Cameron’s brave new Britain.
The figures on wages are the latest blow against the public-relations Prime Minister’s credibility – they come from the respected House of Commons Library.
The graph (above) uses figures from the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England and forecasts from Coalition poodles the Office for Budget Responsibility.
It shows that real earnings are expected to have fallen by 2.3 per cent between 2010 and 2015 – the first fall since 1922-3 when wages fell by 1.8 per cent – and the largest since 1874-80, under Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, when they fell by 2.6 per cent.
Firm figures for 2010-13, from the ONS, paint an even worse picture – they show a 4.6 per cent drop during the three-year period.
So, Dear Reader, if you have been doubting Labour’s claim that wages have dropped by £1,600 per year, in real terms, since the Tories and the Liberal Democrats sidled into office, doubt no more!
This factual evidence has thrown into chaos Conservative claims that the UK has returned to prosperity because our Gross Domestic Product has finally exceeded its pre-financial-crisis peak.
Vox Political was right to say GDP might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it has nothing to do with most of the population.
What is our part-time Chancellor going to do about it? He’s done quite a lot of nose-diving himself and, considering what he has managed from his office…
Let’s hope the song isn’t ‘Gold’, because the irony would be too much to bear.
George Osborne might as well go back to prancing around a prostitute’s boudoir to a soundtrack by Spandau Ballet.
[Image: David Symonds for The Guardian, in February this year.]
Britain has returned to prosperity, with the economy finally nudging beyond its pre-crisis peak, according to official figures.
Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Next time you’re in the supermarket looking for bargains or mark-downs because you can’t afford the kind of groceries you had in 2008, you can at least console yourself that we’re all doing better than we were back then.
The hundreds of thousands of poor souls who have to scrape by on handouts from food banks will, no doubt, be bolstered by the knowledge that Britain is back on its feet.
And the relatives of those who did not survive Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal purge of benefit claimants can be comforted by the thought that they did not die in vain.
NO! Of course not! Gross domestic product might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it’s got nothing to do with most of the population! In real terms, you’re £1,600 per year worse-off!
The Conservatives who have been running the economy since 2010 have re-balanced it, just as they said they would – but they lied about the way it would be re-balanced and as a result the money is going to the people who least deserve it; the super-rich and the bankers who caused the crash in the first place.
You can be sure that the mainstream media won’t be telling you that, though.
Even some of the figures they are prepare to use are enough to cast doubt on the whole process. The UK economy is forecast to be the fastest-growing among the G7 developed nations according to the IMF (as reported by the BBC) – but our export growth since 2010 puts us below all but one of the other G7 nations, according to Ed Balls in The Guardian.
“Since most international trade is in goods and not in services, once the proportion of the economy devoted to producing internationally tradable goods drops below about 15 per cent, it becomes more and more difficult to combine a reasonable rate of growth and full employment with a sustainable balance of payments position,” he writes.
“In the UK, the proportion of GDP coming from manufacturing is now barely above 10 per cent. Hardly surprising then that we have not had a foreign trade surplus balance since 1982 – over thirty years ago – while our share of world trade which was 10.7 per cent in 1950 had fallen by 2012 to no more than 2.6 per cent.”
All of this seems to be good business sense. It also runs contrary to successive governments’ economic policies for the past 35 years, ever since the neoliberal government of Margaret Thatcher took over in 1979.
As this blog has explained, Thatcher and her buddies Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph were determined to undermine the confidence then enjoyed by the people who actually worked for a living, because it was harming the ability of the idle rich – shareholders, bosses… bankers – to increase their own undeserved profits; improvements in working-class living standards were holding back their greed.
In order to hammer the workers back into the Stone Age, they deliberately destroyed the UK’s manufacturing and exporting capability and blamed it on the unions.
That is why we have had a foreign trade deficit since 1982. That is why our share of world trade is less than one-third of what it was in 1950 (under a Labour government, notice). That is why unemployment has rocketed, even though the true level goes unrecognised as governments have rigged the figures to suit themselves.
(The current wheeze has the government failing to count as unemployed anyone on Universal Credit, anyone on Workfare/Mandatory Work Activity and anyone who whose benefit has been sanctioned – among many other groups – for example.)
You may wish to argue that the economy is fine – after all, that’s what everybody is saying, including the Office for National Statistics.
Not according to Mr Mills: “The current improvement in our economic performance, based on buttressing consumer confidence by boosting asset values fuelled by yet more borrowing, is all to unlikely to last.”
(He means the housing bubble created by George Osborne’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme will burst soon, and then the economy will be right up the creek because the whole edifice is based on more borrowing at a time when Osborne has been claiming he is paying down the deficit.)
Ed Balls has got the right idea – at least, on the face of it. In his Guardian article he states: “We are not going to deliver a balanced, investment-led recovery that benefits all working people with the same old Tory economics,” and he’s right.
“Hoping tax cuts at the very top will trickle down, a race to the bottom on wages, Treasury opposition to a proper industrial strategy, and flirting with exit from the European Union cannot be the right prescription for Britain.” Right again – although our contract with Europe must be renegotiated and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement would be a disaster for the UK if we signed it.
But none of that affects you, does it? It’s all too far away, controlled by people we’ve never met. That’s why Balls focuses on what a Labour government would do for ordinary people: “expanding free childcare, introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts. We need to create more good jobs and ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed.”
And how do the people respond to these workmanlike proposals?
“You intend to continue the Tories’ destructive ‘austerity’ policies.”
“The economy isn’t fixed but you broke it.”
There was one comment suggesting that all the main parties are the same now, which – it has been suggested – was what Lynton Crosby told David Cameron to spread if he wanted to win the next election.
Very few of the comments under the Guardian piece have anything to do with what Balls actually wrote; they harp on about New Labour’s record (erroneously), they conflate Labour’s vow not to increase borrowing with an imaginary plan to continue Tory austerity policies… in fact they do all they can to discredit him.
Not because his information is wrong but because they have heard rumours about him that have put them off.
It’s as if people don’t want their situation to improve.
Until we can address that problem – which is one of perception – we’ll keep going around in circles while the exploiters laugh.
Isn’t it shameful that the Conservatives are attacking Labour because the Co-op Bank chief has been behaving like the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
The ex-chairman of the bank, Paul Flowers – who is a former Labour councillor, is being investigated by police after he was filmed appearing to buy drugs. How is that different from the above photograph of one G. Osborne (now Chancellor of the Exchequer), raving it up at a party with a lot of cocaine on the table (ringed in red)?
Comedy Prime Minister David Cameron made much of the Flowers investigation at Prime Minister’s Questions – even suggesting, after the unimpeachable Michael Meacher asked an important question about business investment, that the honourable gentleman might have “been on a night out on the town with Reverend Flowers” and the “mind-altering substances have taken effect”.
Apparently it is all right for Gideon to be a drug casualty because he is a Tory; only Labour supporters who take drugs can be bad in Cameron’s addled world.
No wonder Labour MPs chanted “Shame!” at Cameron as he slunk out of the Chamber.
His attitude seems wrong-headed because, as managed by Mr Osborne for the past three and a half years, the economy can only be regarded as improving if one has the aid of Mr Cameron’s “mind-altering substances”.
Economic figures released this week are being touted as good news, with tax revenues “boosted” by “a recovering economy and housing market”, according to the BBC.
Take a closer look at those figures and they fall down. Borrowing (excluding the cost of interventions like bank bailouts, so we’re already in the realm of made-up figures) fell by two one-hundred-and-thirds, from £8.24 billion in the same month last year to £8.08 billion in October. Less than two per cent and they’re calling it a “boost”. It might be wiped out again in November’s figures.
Also, it should be borne in mind that growth in the housing market is due to the bubble created by our formerly-substance-abusing Chancellor, while any other economic growth has nothing to do with him and, in any case, does not help the vast majority of the population.
Total public debt has risen again, to £1.207 trillion or 75.4 per cent of gross domestic product – the highest it has ever been – under the Conservatives.
The aim for the national deficit, we are told, is to keep borrowing for 2013-14 at £120 billion or below. In his ‘Emergency Budget’ of 2010, Osborne predicted that borrowing this year would be down to half that – at £60 billion, and estimates have been rising ever since.
The 2011 budget had the 2013-14 deficit at £70 billion; in 2012 it was expected to be £98 billion; and now – £120 billion. Perhaps his original estimate was a coke-fuelled fantasy?
Of course – as this blog repeated only days ago – the Conservative-led Coalition never intended to cut the national debt. This was just a claim ministers made while they changed the system to take as much money as possible from the poor while making it possible for the rich to remove their personal earnings and corporate profits from tax to the greatest extent possible.
Result: Increasing debt and lower-than-necessary tax returns, making it possible for the Tories to claim they must cut public services and the benefit system, while laughing all the way to the banks (the ones that were never penalised for burning all our money in the first place).
So much for “We’re all in it together” – unless that was another reference to “mind-altering substances”, and we didn’t understand it until now.
George Osborne’s claim that his nonsense policies have magically turned the economy around, coupled with his equally-preposterous claim that the UK needs another seven years of austerity before he can balance the books – provides a fine example of the duality at the heart of Conservative economic policy.
He needs to convince you that his choices have made a difference and the nation’s fortunes are changing, but he also need to convince you that we’re in a terrible mess – or he won’t have an excuse to continue cutting more public services and selling them into the private sector so his rich friends can use them to fleece you.
The two claims are not only contradictory of each other – they are self-contradictory. The evidence shows that Osborne’s policies delayed the recovery, rather than encouraging it, and the ‘Starve The Beast’ plan he cribbed from George W Bush has long been recognised as harmful to any country’s economic health; by cutting services he is starving the economy of the liquidity that is its lifeblood.
(This is a point worth remembering: Whenever a TV news reporter says Osborne or the government want to make cuts in order to “save” money, they mean the government will be “taking money out of the economy” – which will consequently be worth less. As a result, some people will have to become poorer. Can you guess who?)
Before we congratulate Osborne in ways that are anything like as effusive as David Cameron’s endorsement earlier this week, let’s look at the facts: According to Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, in three and a half years, the UK’s economic performance has improved by just 2.2 per cent – against a prediction of 8.2 per cent by his pet Office of Budget (Ir)Responsibility. In the second quarter of 2013, Gross Domestic Product was 3.3 per cent below its pre-crisis peak and 18 per cent below its 1980-2007 trend, making this the slowest British recovery on record.
Osborne and the Conservatives point proudly to the strong increase in private-sector jobs but, as Mr Wolf states, “this is hardly something to boast about”. While employment – on paper – is at an all-time high, productivity has fallen back to the level it reached in 2005. What does this say about the quality of the jobs that are being filled? Are they high-quality, long-term, well-paid careers, or are they part-time, zero-hours, throwaway fillers? We all know the answer to that. Average wages have been cut by nine per cent, in real terms, since 2010 – and they are still falling.
Even by the standards of other crisis-hit, high-income economies, the UK’s performance has been dismal, says Mr Wolf, pointing to work by Spencer Dale and James Talbot of the Bank of England. This indicates that the Eurozone has performed just as badly – but the difference is that the Eurozone countries do not have control of every economic lever that is available to them; Britain does.
Osborne claims that high global inflation and the performance of the Eurozone have impacted on the UK; Mr Wolf’s assertion is that austerity is the reason for this disappointment – and Osborne was just as much a cheerleader for austerity in Europe as he has been for it in the UK. Furthermore, as the Labour Party pointed out in its report, “David Cameron’s out of touch, you’re out of pocket” (2013), inflation in other G7 countries has been lower than in the UK, indicating that high global prices have little to do with the problem.
“Yes, but,” says Osborne, “austerity has kept interest rates down.” Did it? Did it really? In that case, interest rates would have been kept low because of the promise (in 2010) that borrowing would be brought down by 2015. When the Coalition came to power, Osborne said he expected to borrow a total of £322 billion by 2015. In March this year, that figure had risen to £564 billion – an increase of 75 per cent! Meanwhile the deadline for the national debt to start falling has slipped from 2014-15 back to 2017-18 and the level at which the debt was expected to hit its peak has jumped from 70.3 per cent of GDP to 85.6 per cent. The deficit has been stuck at £120 billion a year for the last two financial years, despite the repeated claims that it has been cut by one-third. None of this has affected long-term interest rates and neither did the loss of the UK’s AAA credit rating in February this year.
As Professor Malcolm Sawyer notes in Fiscal Austerity: The ‘cure’ which makes the patient worse (Centre for Labour and Social Studies, May 2012), “It is well-known that a government can always service debt provided that it is denominated in its own currency. At the limit the UK government can ‘print the money’ in order to service the debt: this would not take form of literally ‘printing money’ but rather the Central Bank being a willing purchaser of government debt in exchange for money.” This is what is happening at the moment. Our debt is in UK pounds, and we can always service it. Our creditors know that, so they remain happy to continue financing it.
“With interest rates at the zero bound, austerity weakened the economy relative to what might otherwise have happened,” wrote Mr Wolf.
“Nobody thought recovery would never happen under austerity, merely that it would be damagingly delayed… This has been an unnecessarily protracted slump. It is good that recovery is here, though it is far too soon to tell its quality and durability. But this does not justify what remains a large unforced error.”
Looking to the future, Osborne has reacted to the new barrage of Labour policies, all of which have been carefully costed against savings in current budget areas, with a series of rushed measures that are entirely unfunded. Remember that, next time a Conservative accuses Labour of borrowing and spending!
The married couples’ allowance, worth less than £4 per week (and less than £2 if you’re on a low income) is unfunded. The promised fuel duty freeze is unfunded. These will cost more than £2 billion and no source has been identified.
And what about the £12 billion stage two of the housing ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, that Osborne rushed forward to this month?
He has pulled £14 billion out of nowhere, but still expects us to believe he will resume his stalled deficit cuts by £35 billion by 2015, £42 billion by 2017-18 and £43 billion by 2020, in order to create a budget surplus.
All the while, he is promising “improved living standards for this generation and the next”. For whom? These cuts must come from somewhere, and they mean removing a cumulative total of £120 billion from the economy each year by 2020. That has to come from somewhere.
Look at the amount by which bosses’ pay in FTSE100 companies has increased in the last three years – 32 per cent, while average worker pay has dropped by nine per cent.
Do you really think the “Have-yachts” will be paying for these cuts?
Government borrowing figures for August have been released and the Treasury has been talking nonsense about them. Again.
Let’s start with the facts: UK public sector net borrowing was £14.4bn in August – slightly higher than the same month last year, and therefore the biggest deficit for the month since records began. Corporation tax receipts fell by 2.1 per cent; benefit payments rose by 4.9 per cent.
Barring the effects of one-off transactions like the raid on the Royal Mail Pension Plan that I mentioned last month, borrowing from April to August increased by £12.9bn, or 22 per cent, on the same period last year – to £61.3bn.
The British Chambers of Commerce reckon that at this rate, total borrowing for 2012-13 will be £20bn+ more than estimated by the misnamed Office for Budget Responsibility at the time of the last budget.
Public sector net debt stood at £1.04 trillion at the end of August 2012, equivalent to 66.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) – that’s up from 1.032tr at the end of July, or 65.7 per cent of GDP.
The BBC, reporting on its website, has stated that the figures make it more likely the government will fail to wipe out the structural budget deficit by its deadline – and I think it won’t make a difference whether that’s 2015 (already long-abandoned) or 2017.
The Treasury, on the other hand, is still telling us it is getting the deficit down. Exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said new figures showing borrowing for 2011-12 came it at £119bn, rather than the OBR’s forecast of £126bn meant the government was dealing with its debts.
This is particularly rich, coming from him. Everybody now knows that the best way for the government to pay down its debts is to tax all the rich Brits who have stashed their cash in offshore tax-havens. Mr Gauke used to work for a tax avoidance firm and his wife is a tax avoidance lawyer. He is exactly the wrong man to lecture us on getting the deficit – the difference between government spending and tax receipts – down.
Some, like Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, are now saying that overshooting the deficit reduction target would be acceptable if the reason was slower economic growth across the world, and the government has been happy to play its ‘Eurozone Strife’ card many times in the past.
But I’m not convinced. I tend to agree with The Guardian’s summary of the Coalition’s non-achievements so far, which states: UK exports to the EU have been growing, at least until early 2012; the deepening Eurozone crisis was mainly due to the same austerity policies employed in the UK; therefore austerity should have been cut back and demand revived.
What we’re left with should be no surprise to anyone: Numbers that don’t add up and explanations that don’t make sense.
Never mind the playing field sell-offs for a moment; they’re only a small part of the economic mess over which the UK’s Conservative-led government is presiding.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that in July the government borrowed £3.4 billion more than on the same month last year. Net borrowing was £557 million (according to The Guardian), but the government made a surplus this time last year, and the figures were a serious disappointment for economic analysts, who had been predicting another surplus of about £2.5 billion.
So far this year, public sector net borrowing – excluding banking interventions and a one-off boost from a transfer (some say theft) of Royal Mail pension assets to the Treasury – was £47.2 billion, up from £35.6 billion during the same period in 2011.
The Office for National Statistics said net debt was 65.7 per cent of GDP. The BBC said this amounted to £1.032 billion, but I think £1.032 trillion is nearer the mark.
The Treasury says disappointing Corporation Tax receipts are to blame, especially after the closure of the Elgin oil platform.
Some analysts say the government may now overshoot its target for reduced borrowing this year, of £120 billion, possibly by more than £35 billion (excluding the Royal Mail effect)
I say that the Coalition government’s economic mismanagement has reached new heights.
We know what’s happening: This government has left open tax loopholes – such as exempting profits earned in overseas subsidiaries from taxation – that have allowed corporations to sit on hundreds of billions of pounds in retained profits.
It abolished the bankers’ bonus tax, so the financiers who caused the mess are not only still paying themselves average salaries of £350,000, but also enjoying billions in bonuses.
It has abolished the 50p top tax rate – creating a tax break for the rich. Executive pay has risen by more than eight per cent this year.
The richest thousand people in Britain own 25 per cent of its wealth – £1.5 trillion.
At the same time, benefits have been slashed, leading to mass suicides and health-related deaths.
VAT has been increased, helping to stall the economy.
Inflation has risen.
Income tax and National Insurance have increased in real terms.
University tuition fees have been tripled, meaning students face years – perhaps decades – of work to pay off the loans they have to take out, simply to get an education.
Public sector pay has been frozen.
Tax avoidance is only seen as a problem if it’s done by a satirical comedian with a talent for humiliating the Coalition government.
And then there’s that massive Royal Mail pensions raid.
And we see that the government is borrowing more, due to a fall in corporation tax payments.
We know why it’s happening: The government wants to cut public services down to (if David Cameron has his way) nothing apart from the judiciary and security services. Everything else is to be sold off to private corporations in order to fleece the general public of whatever they have left – wages, benefits, savings.
Some people are saying that the Tory economic policy has failed. They say George Osborne, as Chancellor, set out an economic goal and a method for achieving it – only to find that his methods have made the problem far worse. They say that his stubbornness in pressing on, even after being told his plan is a disaster, makes him the very definition of a failure.
Silly, silly people.
They forget how much the Conservatives love the private sector and hate public services. Their instinct is to ensure that large corporations (the kind that are happy to give funds to the Tories) have as much opportunity to make as much money as possible. They don’t want to balance the nation’s account books; that would mean taxing the rich and the corporations – in essence, biting the hands that feed them.
As long as the UK is in the red, they’ll have a perfect excuse to do as much damage to public services – and the vast majority of the population that relies on them – as they possibly can.
Let’s go back to the playing fields now. The decision to spite the legacy of the Olympic games by selling off 31 of these fields – 10 more than the Department for Education had previously admitted – was a gift on a day when the economy was shown to be utterly unfit while in Tory hands. They provide so many opportunities for clever wordplay, don’t they?
For example, I could say that, instead of levelling the playing field (in terms of the deficit and national borrowing) the Tories have made it steeper – possibly to match the slope at sold-off Woodhouse Middle School in Staffordshire.
But it would be more accurate to say that these Conservative Party hooligans have got onto the pitch – and spoiled it for everyone else.
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