Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors need to start accepting that they are on the wrong side of the argument; Labour’s membership wants a party of conviction – not one that goes any way they wind blows.
Detractors of Jeremy Corbyn are pushing hard to discredit him any way they can – see yesterday’s article on Alastair Campbell for an example. But the arguments put forward by these critics lack depth.
In his latest article, Professor Simon Wren-Lewis has been exploring whether the Corbyn phenomenon also lacks depth or if there is indeed something to it. It is perceptive in that it examines the issues rather than the personalities, and exposes weaknesses that we all knew existed in Labour policy – but that some of us choose not to acknowledge.
Well, it’s time to acknowledge them! This is only an excerpt from the article and you are heartily advised to visit Mainly Macro for the rest of it.
Whether Corbyn wins or loses, Labour MPs and associated politicos have to recognise that his popularity is not the result of entryism, or some strange flight of fancy by Labour’s quarter of a million plus members, but a consequence of the political strategy and style that lost the 2015 election. They should reflect that if they are so sure they know what will win elections, how come they failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon. A large proportion of the membership believe that Labour will not win again by accepting the current political narrative on austerity or immigration or welfare or inequality and offering only marginal changes to current government policy. On economic policy in particular they need to offer reasons for voters to believe that there are alternatives to the current status quo of poor quality jobs, deteriorating public services and infrastructure, and growing poverty alongside gross inequality at the top. That means, whether he wins or loses, working with the Corbyn phenomenon rather than dismissing it.
It is nonsense to suggest that the Labour party membership has suddenly become markedly more left wing than it used to be. Corbyn’s popularity has much more to do with how the party in parliament has responded to both election defeats.
The reaction of most of the parliamentary party to the 2015 defeat seems to be that the pre-2015 strategy was right in principle but had just not focused enough in placating the marginal English voter, which they believe means more appeasement and shifting further to the right. The party membership seems to have reacted very differently to the 2015 defeat. The membership appears to believe that the pre-2015 strategy has clearly failed, and it is time to start talking with conviction about the issues you believe in. This is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn does: he is a conviction politician, who is not prepared to try and be someone else to win votes.
If Labour is to have any hope in 2020 it has to start attacking Osborne’s unnecessary and obsessive austerity, as well as getting the past history straight. There are also reasons for thinking that the power of deficit fetishism for voters will steadily decline. In that sense, on this issue and perhaps others, Corbyn seems to have an advantage.
Guest Joanna Lumley, with The Last Leg’s co-hosts Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker, agreeing that #LegUp is a good idea. But is it?
On the face of it, it seems like a very good idea.
On Channel 4’s The Last Leg yesterday evening, Adam Hills revealed a plan to counteract the severely detrimental effects of George Osborne’s budget, from the ground upwards.
He said the budget removed government help from those who need it most, and reasoned that – if the government won’t provide, then ordinary people should step in and fill the gap.
He proposed a Twitter hashtag, #LegUp, where people could request – or offer – a ‘leg up’ from others who can provide it – or to others who need it.
The idea went viral within minutes, and within hours it was a global trend.
And that’s really good… BUT:
Isn’t this doing what David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ tried to achieve, back in 2010?
#LegUp has people doing – for no reward – what public services used to provide at a cost of millions of pounds, before the Conservative Government took it away.
Isn’t it doing David Cameron’s dirty work for him?
This Writer doesn’t think that is the intention. Look at The Last Leg and you’ll see that this is absolutely not a Tory-glory show!
Perhaps #LegUp is just a place to start.
If the premise was taken further, and into specialised areas, it may be possible to use it to starve Tory-supporting businesses; if their services can be provided freely via #LegUp, there would be no need to pay for them.
Plus, of course, there would be no tax gain from the services provided – that’s one huge difference from Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, which was intended as a way of helping Tory-donor businesses profit from the shrinking of the state.
Eventually – if it doesn’t prove to be a flash-in-the-pan fad – #LegUp could become an economic system of its own, paying lip-service to the economy that has been taken over by the greedy, while taking away the liquidity it needs to survive.
That would put ordinary people in a much better position to bargain with Chancellors like the mendacious Osborne.
The Conservatives’ latest negative campaign advert: The Tories seem to think they are the only party who should be allowed to steal the cash from poor people.
Twice, in a matter of days, Vox Political‘s findings on political issues have been supported by the evidence of a scholar.
Today, the Mainly Macroblog written by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches Economics at Oxford University, supports This Writer’s argument that the so-called economic recovery, that began in 2013, had little or nothing positive to do with the Coalition Government or George Osborne’s policies.
“The idea that austerity during the first two years of the coalition government was vindicated by the 2013 recovery is so ludicrous that it is almost embarrassing to have to explain why,” he writes.
“Imagine that a government on a whim decided to close down half the economy for a year. That would be a crazy thing to do, and with only half as much produced everyone would be a lot poorer. However a year later when that half of the economy started up again, economic growth would be around 100%. The government could claim that this miraculous recovery vindicated its decision to close half the economy down the year before. That would be absurd, but it is a pretty good analogy with claiming that the 2013 recovery vindicated 2010 austerity.”
That’s right. George Osborne did huge harm to the economy when he imposed austerity in 2010, choking off Labour’s recovery. It is senseless for him to claim that easing off on that policy has created an economic miracle. As this blog has repeatedly stated, any economic recovery enjoyed by the UK has had nothing to do with the actions of the Coalition Government.
It is important to remember that the Tories intend to impose even deeper austerity if they win the election next month, causing catastrophic harm to anyone who isn’t in the richest 10 per cent of the population.
But why do this at all? What was the point of it?
A commenter to this blog’s Facebook page put it very well only today. Tracey Wilkinson Clarke wrote: “Corporations and capitalism [were]crashing…the banking crisis was created … as a reason to bring in austerity measures to feed the money back up to the few.” This opinion is supported by an article on this blog at the time.
It is also supported by the Conservative Party’s most recent anti-SNP campaign advert. Following on from David Cameron’s overheard comment on television last week, that Alex Salmond was a pickpocket, the advert has an image of the SNP candidate reaching towards a member of the public’s pocket, with the tagline, “Don’t let the SNP grab your cash.”
It is Conservative Party policy to do exactly that – and hand it over to the very rich in the form of tax breaks (both personal and business-orientated), tax avoidance, lucrative public ‘service’ contracts, and shares in privatised utilities.
Labour’s promise to expand the reach of freedom of information (FoI) requests to cover private companies, such as G4S or Capita, in relation to their public service work will be meaningless as long as those companies, along with government departments, can use clever excuses to duck out of their responsibilities.
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, interviewed by The Guardian, said more and more public services, funded by taxpayers, are being run by private companies who are outside the scope of freedom of information.
That is why Labour will expand the reach of FoI requests, opening up up private contractors that run prisons, courtroom and health services to public scrutiny.
There’s only one problem: Government departments already have a range of excuses available, with which to bat away any inconvenient requests.
Just take a look at this article on the politics.co.uk website, detailing a few of these tricks. Vox Political‘s own FoI request for up-to-date statistics on the number of people who have died while going through the ESA claim or appeal process is currently stalled, having run into a ‘section 22’ exemption on the grounds that the information will be published at a future date.
It has not been made clear how far in the future this date may be, but, considering some of the requested information is now more than three years old, it seems likely that the Department for Work and Pensions is waiting for Hell to freeze over.
Here’s another article, from the Huffington Post, showing how even the simplest, easiest-to-answer requests are being rejected.
Why should we believe private companies will be any more open to examination than government departments?
Remember when the Transparency of Lobbying, Third-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act (otherwise known as the Gagging Act) was passed, in January this year? Vox Political warned that it marked the end of free speech and free protest in the UK.
The article showed that the new law means you may no longer link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way – as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
In that article, this blog asked why the government has launched its attack on free speech and free protest, and suggested the following: Perhaps it wants to control the information you receive, on which you base your voting intentions?
This week we received confirmation of that theory – or at least, some of us did.
The ‘tax statements’ being sent out to Income Taxpayers by the Treasury – on the orders of George Osborne – are nothing less than party political electioneering, being carried out using those taxpayers’ own money rather than the Tory Party’s funds. The leaflet is worded in a very carefully-chosen way that betrays a clear intention to mislead readers – most particularly about the amount of our Income Tax that is spent on ‘welfare’.
To illustrate the extent of the problem: We cannot say this is the same as social security, as – according to the terms of the leaflet – it isn’t. Apparently a quarter of our money is spent on ‘welfare’, which is then broken down into bizarre categories like ‘social protection’ – including, alongside social security, personal care services which nobody has defined as ‘welfare’ until know, and the pensions of retired mandarins, colonels and lowlier public servants who will be appalled to hear their hard-earned retirement provision re-labelled as ‘welfare’, according to The Guardian‘s editorial on the subject. David Cameron’s pension would be defined as ‘welfare’, according to this categorisation.
Meanwhile, state pensions have been defined as being paid from an entirely different source (they aren’t), in order to safeguard the Grey vote from the indignation that – clearly – this piece of politically-prompted propaganda is intended to stoke.
The fact is that – as the Mirror points out – Income Taxpayers put a lot more than 12p in every pound towards pensions, and a lot less than 24p in every pound towards working-age benefits.
Here are another couple of tricks – possibly the nastiest of the lot: Firstly, the leaflet does not make it clear that ‘welfare’ payments are made to people who have a right to them “because of family or medical circumstance, or indeed a record of national insurance contributions”. The impression foisted on the reader is of “unearned handouts to the poor”, according to the Guardian editorial.
Secondly, the leaflet as a whole does not mention the contribution of VAT payments to the national purse. This is because the government has cut Income Tax (irrationally – it has a huge deficit and debt to pay off but has reduced its own income). The thinking behind this is that people will think they have been allowed to keep more of the money they have earned. But the same government has increased VAT, meaning that – in fact – people are being taxed more heavily!
What is the intended result of all this deception? It is as Vox Political described, back in January:
“You would be led to believe that the governments policies are working, exactly the way the government says they are working.
“You would not have any reason to believe that the government is lying to you on a daily basis.
“You would be tranquillised.
What a relief that nobody believes that filthy liar Osborne – even his own backbenchers!
This is how they see him – offering empty promises as a ‘carrot’ to encourage voters to support the Tories.
Osborne’s behaviour is so appalling that this blog has started a petition, calling on the government to withdraw these propaganda sheets that pretend to be official government information – and apologise for ever releasing them in the first place.
Finger-jabbing protest: Iain Duncan Smith talked over Owen Jones in his last Question Time appearance; this time the other panellists didn’t give him the chance.
Around three-quarters of the way through tonight’s Question Time, I was ready to believe the BBC had pulled a fast one on us and we weren’t going to see Iain Duncan Smith get the well-deserved comeuppance that he has managed to avoid for so long in Parliament and media interviews.
There was plausible deniability for the BBC – the Isis crisis that has blown up in Iraq is extremely topical and feeds into nationwide feeling about the possibility of Britain going to war again in the Middle East. The debate on extremism in Birmingham schools is similarly of public interest – to a great degree because it caused an argument between Tory cabinet ministers. Those are big issues at the moment and the BBC can justifiably claim that it was making best use of the time and the panellists (for example Salma Yaqoob is a Muslim, from Birmingham, who is a member of ‘Hands Off Our Schools’).
But Auntie shouldn’t think for a moment that we didn’t notice the glaring omission on tonight’s agenda. With the Work and Pensions Secretary as the major politician on the panel, we should have had a question about his job but were fobbed off instead with non-items about ‘British values’ and whether parents should be arrested for allowing their children to become obese. That’s enough for some of us to read a right-wing agenda between the lines – an aim to avoid embarrassing Iain Duncan Smith.
It seems that, even if Auntie’s twin-set is pink, her bloomers are blue. Blue-mers, if you like.
By the time the fourth question came up, it seemed there would be no opportunity to analyse RTU (we call him Returned To Unit after his failed Army career) and his disastrous ministerial career.
This question was: “After the Newark by-election, are we looking at the destruction of the Liberal Democrats?” Thank goodness some of the panellists realised this was their chance.
Chris Bryant leapt at the opportunity to bypass the Lib Dems altogether. “The real enemy is over there,” he said, indicating the Secretary-in-a-State. “The Conservatives have made this country a place where two million people need food bank handouts.”
Salma Yaqoob pointed out that, thanks to the Conservative-led coalition (and, because he’s the Work and Pensions secretary, Duncan Smith’s policies), “13 million people are now below the poverty line and one million are suffering the indignity of having to use food banks.
“People are suicidal,” she pointed out – a very pertinent claim to make, as the most common cause of death for people going through Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit system appears to be suicide (due to the stress created by Department for Work and Pensions officers who work very hard to push them off-benefit). “They don’t want to be a burden to their families because their support has been taken away.”
She said: “People have been called scroungers… Iain Duncan Smith quite happily labels poor people as scroungers, when he claimed £39 on expenses for his own breakfast.”
Duncan Smith was interrupting from the background to claim that he had never called benefit claimants scroungers. Feel free to go to your favourite search engine right now, type in “Iain Duncan Smith scroungers”, and see for yourself whether his name has ever been associated with the word.
And, thank goodness, a member of the public spoke up to say: “Iain Duncan Smith is systematically taking down public services in this country and destroying people’s lives.”
He went on to invite anybody who cares about this issue to the demonstration in London by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, on June 21.
(I have since discovered that he was David Peel, press officer for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. In my opinion, the fact that he was a political representative, planted in the audience to make a point, diminishes what he had to say – but I am still glad that somebody said what he did.)
It was sad that the great satirist Ian Hislop did not take an opportunity to make a few sharp observations – especially as commenters to this site have made it clear that they contacted him to request this action. He addressed himself to the question he had been asked and I make no comment about that; you can draw your own conclusions.
It didn’t happen the way this writer would have wanted, but the job got done anyway.
Expect multiple attempts by the right-wing press to salvage the situation – all doomed to failure.
Last week, Vox Political stated that there was an opportunity here to show the public the homicidal – if not genocidal – nature of the changes to the benefit system this man mockingly describes as “welfare reforms”.
Smug: George Osborne knows he doesn’t deserve his huge salary – but he also knows you can’t do a single thing to stop him increasing it and, just to rub it in, he wants to add calamity to injury by cutting payments to the very poor.
George Osborne wants billions of pounds cut from the UK’s social security budget, at the same time he and his fellow MPs take an enormous, undeserved pay boost.
Osborne, who spent 50 minutes patting himself on the back for restoring the economy to growth with his austerity cuts – even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with what little improvement there has been, said he wanted to push people on benefits further into poverty in order to meet deficit reduction targets.
“You are going to have to find billions of pounds more in welfare savings if you want to reduce the deficit, eliminate the deficit and get our debt falling,” he told the Treasury Committee.
A BBC News report tried to suggest that if the Conservative Party wins the next election, welfare (that’s the Tory word for social security) may be cut to protect spending on public services.
But this seems completely implausible. He is proposing a cut to benefits like Jobseekers’ Allowance (£71.70 per week at current rates) while MPs are set to receive an average pay rise of more than twice as much (£145.75 per week) – and that’s just the increase!
Average MP pay will be £1,419 per week, up from £1,273 per week at the moment. The Chancellor, of course, receives far more. His pay will rise to £2,863 per week from £2,580 per week at the moment.
He takes home 36 times as much as a jobseeker gets on benefit; he wants40 times as much; and he wants the jobseeker to take the brunt of his plan to reduce the deficit – a debt that was not created by the jobseeker but by rich bankers who, like Osborne, have sailed through the last five years of recession on a pillow of taxpayers‘ money.
That is the human cost of Conservative-led government.
It is a cost that this country simply cannot afford.
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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.
Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.
“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.
If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.
The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.
Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.
With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?
Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.
Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).
Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.
The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.
This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.
Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).
It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.
That is not what we see.
We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).
We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.
And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.
The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.
In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.
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?
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