Mrs May had already announced "the end of austerity" at the Tory Conference in September/October. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, in his budget speech yesterday, was not quite so sure: "Austerity is coming to an end." In other words we're not there yet.
Yet both of them imply that we, the British people, have endured eight years of "hard work" and are now to be rewarded as a result of its success.
I've heard only snatches of Jeremy Corbyn's response in the Commons and have not yet found a written report, but in essence he said: the eight years of austerity were unnecessary; the economy has grown at a slower level than if the policies of the previous Labour government had been continued; the poor are poorer, the public realm (local government, education, health and welfare services etc) has been devastated; the richest have flourished.
I can't see anything to fault in that analysis. The only downside is that it was delivered in a hectoring and belligerent tone, which may impress the House of Commons, but falls flat for the people outside who need to be persuaded. He, and other politicians, need to take a hint from Gilbert and Sullivan: "Quiet calm deliberation disentangles every knot." - and receives more attention than hot air.
In the past eight years:
- real-terms funding for local government has been cut by 49%.
- Home Office expenditure on the police has been cut by more than 20% - there are now 19 000 fewer officers that in 2010.
- Legal Aid expenditure has been cut by £950m, leading to "legal aid deserts." For the disastrous effect on the most vulnerable read "The Secret Barrister."
- 475 libraries have been closed and 230 000 hours of library opening have been lost.
- expenditure on adult social care is falling while demand rises, leading to -
- the NHS in (yet another) crisis.
- cuts in school funding have led 2000 normally apolitical head teachers to march on Downing Street in protest.
- the number of cyclists killed or injured has tripled, at least in part due to poorly maintained roads.*
So what is Hammond proposing to do about it?
Very little to replace the damage done to the public sector over this long period.
If the Tories are genuine in their claim that the austerity policy was solely motivated by an alleged necessity to bring the public finances into order, then the end of austerity should mean that the sector should be replenished. If it is not, than we must conclude that the motive all along was to reduce the size of the state.
There's a bit of money to help ease the pain of the Universal Credit fiasco, and something for filling in the potholes. But the big news is a headline "give away" (more accurately described as a "not taken") for tax payers of £3bn. My share is to be £306, but not until 2019.. If I were a "higher rate" taxpayers it would be £800+
"Unto him that hath shall be given" seems to be one one bit of the Bible the Tories understand..
This is a "tweaking at the edges" Budget of the sort which which could have been produced at any time in the last 60 years. "Fiddling while Rome burns" and "Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" are metaphors which spring to mind.
Nothing to tackle the great issues of today:
- shamefully, at a time when the threats of climate change become daily more parent, the "fuel duty accelerator" remains frozen for the ninth year running.
- there is no move to reduce rising inequality and finance the increasing need for care for the elderly by taxing the unearned increments rusulting from rising house prices.
- or land taxes.
- or a Tobin type tax on financial transaction.
* Most of these figures are taken from the New Statesman, 12 - 18 October, 2018