Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Budget: largely a PR Fest.

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.

What nonsense.

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.*
As Polly Toynbee sums it up in today's Guardian:  "everywhere creeping public squalor."

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.
We may be 18 years into the 21st Century, but British political and economic thinking is still stuck in the last quarter of the 20th

* Most of these figures are taken  from the New Statesman, 12 - 18 October, 2018


  1. 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.

    Uh, no. If you've been binging, living beyond your means, and maxed out all your credit cards and got close to bankruptcy because of your prodigality, and so you have to spend a few years living austerely while paying off the interest, you don't, once you've finally got your finances into order, celebrate by returning to the exacxt same splurging that got you into the mes sin the first place! That would be mad.

    No, you keep on spending at the lower level, the level that you can actually afford.

    So yes, the whole purpose all along was to shrink the size of the state because having a state the size of the New Labour one was like subscribing to every pay-TV service in sight, buying season tickets to all the local football clubs, eating out every night, and just generally living it large on the never-never.

    1. All very well if you want to live in a country where there is, as Toynbee puts it, "everywhere creeping public squalor." I don't. I want to live in a country which has spanking public services: a health service with some spare capacity,; a social security safety net to enable the disabled, unemployed or otherwise unfortunate to live a tolerably civilised life; a country where there are no children in poverty (it's 33% in the UK today, many of them in families where the adults are in work); which has decent roads, smart parks and public facilities. I could go on.
      And I'm, prepared to pay for it, as I did for much of my working life, with a standard rate of income tax around 33%. I do not want my perk of £306 while the public services on which contribute to a civilised life, and on which the poorest in particular rely, are pared to the bone and unable to function effectively.

  2. It is to reduce the size of the state.Austerity is coming to an end. When? Those words do not say it has ended. The economy has been built on credit to give that'feel good'feeling.Result is that we have lived beyond our means.We learn to spend less therefore do without. The economy takes a hit,the economy takes a hit. The country/we become poorer (except for the well off and Tory voters, one third of us). The result being that the Tories can then say that we have to continue the cuts and therefore the state is reduced. Tories cut ,Labour overspend .We need a middle way or we end up as a banana republic trapped in a never ending circle.

    1. You are right: continued cuts lead to a downward spiral. The idea that the public finances are in a precarious state is nonsense and has been even since 2008. That "we could become like Greece" was dangerous myth used to con us into cutting public expenditure when a policy of public works on Keynesian lines was what was required.

      I also agree that the real danger today is of unsustainable private debt. We need to put the waiting back into wanting.


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