Saturday, June 12, 2010

Where is the mandate for 'Canadian-style' cuts?

Are the Tories economic saviours - or are they just opportunistic ideologues using the deficit crisis as an excuse to finish Thatcher's work. Here's today's Journal column.

One of the shortest-lived and least successful political advertising campaigns of recent times was Labour's general election poster featuring David Cameron as fictional 80s TV cop Gene Hunt.

"Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s," said the catchline, as the Tory leader was depicted astride Hunt's famous red Audi Quattro.

The campaign, which was swiftly pulled, ignored two important facts. Firstly, most people thought Gene Hunt was quite cool. Secondly, many would jump at the chance to go back to the 1980s were it really possible.

For all the bitter folk-memories of the 1984/5 miners' strike, unemployment topping 3m in 1981 and the Toxteth and Brixton riots that summer, it was an altogether gentler age than the one we live in now.

If anyone is in any doubt about this, Mr Cameron's speech on Monday in which he sought to prepare the public for spending cutbacks the likes of which have never been seen before ought to disabuse them of it.

Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is insistent that it won't mean a return to "Thatcher-style policies," and he's quite right. It’s going to be far worse than that.

For all that the Tories still worship the Iron Lady as the premier who began the rolling-back of the state with her 1980s privatisations, there are some parts of the public sector she would have never dared touch.

That is emphatically not the case now. The message coming out from Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne is that no item of public expenditure can now be considered sacrosanct.

Is this a bad thing? Well, not necessarily. All parties are agreed after all on the need to reduce the country's £156m budget deficit, and however many reviews of government 'waste' are carried out, it seems there are always new savings to be found.

But for me, the biggest question mark against the government's plans to adopt the 'Canadian Solution' and radically shrink the size of the state concerns its lack of political legitimacy.

It should not be forgotten that the Tories did not win an outright majority at the election, and that most people who voted Lib Dem certainly did not vote for huge public spending cuts.

While the coalition partners can claim a strong policy mandate in areas such as civil liberties where they fought the election on similar ground, that was decidedly not the case when it came to economic policy.

History is written by the winners, of course, and the government is already busy constructing a political narrative which seeks to justify the drastic economic remedies it now proposes.

Gordon Brown's government, we will be told again and again over the coming months, has left the country practically bankrupt and on the verge of 'doing a Greece.'

It already seems forgotten that Mr Brown's additional spending 'stimulus' designed to get the economy moving again in 2008/09 was met with widespread public approval at the time.

Such rewriting of history is nothing new. The Tories ensured the Callaghan government was remembered not for repaying the 1976 IMF loan within two years and stabilising the nation's finances, but for the Winter of Discontent.

What, if anything, have Labour's five leadership contenders got to say about all this?

Well, the fact that they have thus far been uncharacteristically muted in their criticisms of the coalition's plans goes to show how far it has already succeeded in shifting the terms of the debate.

The truth is that the deficit crisis has presented the Tories with a chance to do something some of them have wanted to do for decades, and take the axe to large parts of the state.

Is it the harsh medicine the country needs? Or is it rather just a blatant piece of ideology-driven opportunism?

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Stephen Rouse said...

Superb column. Unfortunately, not a viewpoint which is being heard in the "mea culpa" Labour leadership election

Anonymous said...

During the past 13 years:

-Schools hired 8x as many administrators as teachers
-NHS manager jobs grew 3x more than nurses
-80% increase in number of civil servants
-Public Sector press officers doubled
-Marketing & Sales managers in public sector increased from 10,000 to 23,000.

8.1 million people economicaly inactive,7 million public sector workers,50% of entire workforce supported by the other 50% in the private sector.

As Byrne confirmed there is no money left.

Anonymous said...

>>Is it the harsh medicine the country needs? Or is it rather just a blatant piece of ideology-driven opportunism?

Alistair Darling's last budget promised huge cuts but didnt say what they were. Now the new government are making those cuts you are saying they arent needed? Who is guilty of 'ideology-driven opportunism?' Maybe a better phrase is 'hypocritical opportunism'.

Gordon Brown told us that his 'golden rule' was that he would only borrow to invest over the economic cycle. But if you look at the figures he borrowed more than he invested every year since 2001. And yet, who do Labour blame for the deficit? The banks.

The 'nasty Tories' line just does not match the evidence of 13 years of misrule. Labour needs to take some responsibility for destroying our economy.

elisa said...

nice thanks:))