According to some commentators, the fact that the G20 group is now advocating a cuts agenda that is far more drastic than previously contemplated validates the position that the Tories have held since the earliest days of the financial crisis – you can’t spend your way out of recession. Following George Osborne’s much feted trip to Busan, South Korea, where he addressed G20 finance ministers, Angela Merkel has announced plans to cut the German budget by nearly $100billion over four years. Other G20 leaders have followed suit and Osborne has taken credit for what he considers to be a “notable change of tone”.
We are told, constantly, that it’s the threat of a “Greek-style crisis” that has altered the landscape irrevocably.
The fiscal stimulus is over and the era of austerity that has long be threatened by doom-mongering rightwing Tories such as John Redwood is finally upon us. But it’s not all gloom. George Osborne has promised the British public a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity. We get to decide how we want to cut the deficit. By £170billion.
I am someone who generally sides with both the concept and practice of “bottom-up”, “grassroots” decision-making. Empowering local communities so that they can choose what kind of services they want is a good thing. In this instance, however, I have to agree with Nigel Lawson. Yes, I have found common ground with a prominent climate sceptic and one of the key figures behind the monetarist economic policies and mass privatisation/unemployment of the 1980s. Lawson is absolutely right to claim that the cuts consultation is nothing more than a PR ploy. A cycnial one at that.
The consultation is nothing more than the coalition government softening us up for “savage” cuts in the near future. What we have is an illusion of choice. Would you like to sell off your local library or cut child/pensioner benefits?
On the BBC’s Daily Politics show today, Andrew Neil interviewed Göran Persson, the former Prime Minister of Sweden, on the issue of reducing government expenditure. Persson oversaw large-scale cuts to the Swedish finances in the 1990s when Sweden went through a painful recession. Persson’s advice to the UK? Start making cuts immediately and do not ring-fence any government department. Andrew Neil was visibly surprised by Persson’s remarks. Coming from a Swedish social-democrat they did indeed seem quite extraordinary. However, two things should be considered when taking Persson’s remarks into account: 1) the Swedish SDP implemented significant tax hikes as a way of reducing the deficit and 2) Sweden was, and remains to this day, one of the most equal societies on earth.
So, for George Osborne to repeat the mantra thet we’re all in this together is another exercise in PR. Clearly we’re not. The UK is still one the most economically divided societies in the western world. If the government really believed that the nation should pull together, would they not start, like they did in Sweden, by asking those at the top of the pay-scale to contribute more through taxation? And rather than asking the great majority of Britons to choose which public services they can do without, why not first deal with the thousands of serious tax evasion cases that remain outstanding.
I very much doubt the consultation process will take such views into account. The consultation conclusions will, I suspect, be very similar to the original Con-Dems contract for government.
So what is the point of the Programme for Government website that specifically looks at energy and climate change issues? I don’t know. I do know that you have until tomorrow to add your policy ideas to the comments section of the website. Who decided that comments would only be enabled for a period three days overall? Who will read your comments? And what is the determining factor over whether or not a policy suggestion is “good” or “bad”?
I don’t think these questions matter much to Osborne and co. They simply want to be seen to be listening.
I’ll end with a quote from one of the 591 comments (thus far) from the Programme for Government website on energy and climate change.
Remember that the bottom line is greenhouse gas emissions, and the atmosphere is not fooled by spin or politics.
Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult to cut emissions in the UK if we make large cuts to either the DECC or Defra budgets. Government support for green industry will not only reap long-term environmental rewards, it will stimulate further economic growth.