As Johan Hari so brilliantly points out, drastic cuts during bad economic times have been tried before. The coalition government’s approach has failed time and time again – in the 1930s and early 1980s – and it will probably, though we must all hope that it doesn’t, fail again. Only time will tell.
Deciding which side of the argument to be on is the easy bit. The least we can expect from the government at this sobering time is some honesty about why they’re cutting so deeply, so quickly. We’re not getting it.
The government seeks to blame Labour for the deficit, despite the UK having entered the financial crisis with the second lowest budget deficit in the G7, and the Tories having supported Labour’s spending plans right up to 2008 . “We are not doing this because we want to; there is no ideological zeal in doing this, we are doing this because we have to” said George Osborne yesterday. This begs two questions: the first is, if these cuts are not ideological, why is there no commitment to rebuild public services once the public finances are restored? The second is why is the impact is so disproportionately aimed at the poor and the services on which they rely?
The reason the chancellor managed to claim he is cutting average departmental spending by 19% is because the cuts are not distributed evenly across the board as “being in this together” would imply. Just look at the massive 70% cut to social housing, the decimation of budgets to local councils to fund local services, and an evisceration of the public sector through half a million job losses.
The truth is the Conservative Party are pursuing an ideological commitment to cutting public spending and reducing the size of the state. They are doing exactly what they came into politics for, and using the deficit created by the financial crisis as cover. From freezing child benefit to cutting social housing, this is a right wing Conservative Party pursuing a right wing ideological agenda.
The Daily Telegraph this morning hailed the spending review as a “once in a generation opportunity” to reconfigure the economy shifting the balance away from the public sector” – a theme echoed by both the Daily Mail and the Wall Street Journal Europe. These headlines help to explain the smiles behind the Tory benches as cut after cut was rattled out at breakneck speed by George Osborne yesterday.
Perhaps most tellingly of all was the chancellor’s comment this morning in his interview on Today. He said:
“of course we would not have wanted to do this in the current economic climate”.
This of course begs the question of why he did not say they would not have wanted to do this at all.
The majority of people in this country voted for parties whose manifestos did not specify an immediate and drastic reduction in the long term role of government. The British people do not share the Tories’ ideological obsession with reducing the size of the state. Of course the deficit must be reduced, but it should be done so to deliver growth, not to achieve an ideology. The big question is why the Liberal Democrats are allowing themselves to be used as cover for a right wing Tory agenda.