Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Tories - but where's the opposition?

Over the last few days David Cameron and George Osborne have finally elucidated the nightmare vision of what a Tory Government will look like: attacks on welfare, public sector pay freezes, raising of the state retirement age. The Morning Star spells it out in stark detail on its front page 'Tories aim to hit the poor hardest'

. . . and yet. Where have we heard all this before? The Tories say they will move 500,000 off incapacity benefit, but New Labour's stated aim is to move 1 million off incapacity benefit. They both say they will privatise welfare delivery and introduce workfare schemes - which is why the Tories supported New Labour's Welfare Reform Bill through the Commons earlier this year.

Darling and Osborne made almost identical statements on public sector pay freezes, and the Tories, who supported New Labour's Pensions Act to raise the state retirement age to 66, now say it should happen in 2016 rather than 2026.

It all reminds me of what Tony Benn - a dissident prisoner in the Callaghan (IMF cuts) Cabinet - wrote in his diary on 24th June 1977, "we have provided a blueprint . . . and we will have no argument against it". New Labour has provided a blueprint for the Tories and can have no argument against it. Tony Benn continued, "it is an outrage". Indeed.

It's also economically incompetent:

1) On its own terms, raising the state retirement age in 2016 won't save a single penny for another seven years, so it does not make sense as Osborne presented it as a solution to the deficit. It's also incredibly regressive, DoH figures suggest that someone in Social Class V has a life expectancy of 72; while social class I averages 79. This means the poorest will get 6 years of pension, the richest 13 years. Any raising of the state retirement age is regressive.

2) Cuts in pay and benefits will mean less being spent in the economy and undermine attempts to reflate. In a recession you need to put money in the hands of those who will spend - not take it away.

3) The deficit is not a problem (immediately) - the UK has less deficit then many other countries (as % of GDP) and should be investing in jobs and industry to give the economy a shot in the arm - and if cuts need to be made (or funds diverted from elsewhere) then Trident, ID cards, and the war in Afghanistan would be almost universally popular choices. This is basic Keynesianism, but instead we seem to have a austere monetarist consensus now for cuts towards a balanced budget.

There is now a massive gulf opening up on the left - and yet New Labour continues to move to the right . . .

Since Osborne and Darling want to talk up 'crisis' - while painting themselves as the saviours - then perhaps we need really drastic solutions: the appropriation of the 200 largest companies and their profits used to pay off the national debt?

For an alternative to cuts, see the LRC / LEAP briefing 'Cutting our way to defeat?'

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