A Guardian/ICM poll in autumn last year revealed an alarming fact: David Cameron and George Osborne are more trusted by the public on “economic management” by a margin of 40% to 22%, and we know that the public – and a number of Labour supporters amongst them – have hardened their attitude towards welfare support.
Yet we know that Labour’s social policy was a success, this is verified by the London School of Economic’s definitive survey of the Blair-Brown years: “There is clear evidence that public spending worked, contrary to popular belief.” Nor did Labour overspend. It inherited “a large deficit and high public sector debt”, with spending “at a historic low” – 14th out of 15 in the EU.
Although Labour’s spending increased, until the global crash it was “unexceptional”, either by historic UK standards or international ones. Until 2007 “national debt levels were lower than when Labour took office”. After years of neglect, Labour inherited a public realm in decay, squalid, public buildings, almost extinct public services and neglected human lives that formed a social deficit more expensive than any Treasury debt. But Labour reinvested in people, in services, just like they always do.
Things were much better with a Labour administration, with money mostly well spent on public services and infrastructure. Labour shielded us from the effects of global crash. We were out of recession in the UK by 2010.
In the weeks after he took office, George Osborne justified his austerity programme by claiming that Britain was on “the brink of bankruptcy”. However, the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility publicly rebuked Osborne for that bare-faced lie.
The public seem to have forgotten that it was the Conservative-led Coalition that lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.
The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 4 years than labour did in 13. It’s remarkable that the general public pay so little attention to events and facts, but as Goebbels said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Another big lie of course is that “they’re all the same”. This myth started life as a divisive and demoralising propaganda tool aimed at the Left by the likes of Lynton Crosby. The Right have always employed the tactics of infiltration, disruption and “neutralization” to address opposition and these tactics are well known to civil liberties advocates everywhere. (See “The Enemy Within”, and the account of how Thatcher used MI5 as a home-grown political police force that was deployed against the miners and the Left.)
One of the most disheartening consequences of Right wing propaganda is watching how some of the Left pick it up and run with it. All over the place. The Huff published an article claiming Future Labour Government WILL NOT Undo Hugely Unpopular Coalition Government Cuts, but on close scrutiny, the article does not substantiate or justify the headline. So it was with incredulity that I watched various Left-wing factions translate that into “Miliband supports austerity” and that was repeated over and over, without much critical analysis or attention paid to what was actually said.
Firstly, Milliband DOES NOT SUPPORT AUSTERITY and never has. Miliband has already made a commitment to prioritise addressing inequality and the cost of living crisis.
Secondly, what Miliband has actually said is: “Our starting point for 2015-16 will be that we cannot reverse any cut in day-to-day, current spending unless it is fully funded from cuts elsewhere or extra revenue – not from more borrowing.”
If you look past the various bluntly misleading headlines, the Labour leader has simply given himself room for manoeuvre. Miliband has said that he won’t make any promises he cannot keep. And he hasn’t. Those pledges that have been made to date have been costed, evidenced and justified.
In light of a hostile media, and a public tending to believe that austerity is somehow necessary and justified, it’s worth considering that if Miliband wants to be in a position to change anything at all for the better, he will need to be elected, and some elements of public opinion present a barrier to that. And for the wrong reasons, unfortunately for us, and for Miliband.
Here is a commentary of Miliband’s understandably cautious statement:
1) Miliband has committed to matching spending levels only.
Whilst he may be matching current “day-to-day” spending levels, that still allows him plenty of room for capital spending. He may as well have openly pledged to do so, with robust rhetoric on housing and house building. His speech on limiting the benefit bill specifically mentioned how house building can reduce welfare spending in the long run, by stopping the system of siphoning off public funds for private landlords. He also has political endorsement from the International Monetary Fund, which suggested that the UK could use another £10 billion investment. Labour have pledged to build new homes and it’s thought that the figure will be a million in total, in the Manifesto. That will also provide a boost the the economy.
Furthermore, Miliband has pledged to repeal the Bedroom Tax, and the cuts to and privatisation of the NHS. And that IS a promised reversal of cuts made by the Coalition.
2) It’s only for one year
Miliband’s pledge only counts for the first year of his government, from 2015 to 2016. After that, he can do what he likes.
Raising revenue over that year through various methods, such as collecting more taxes from the wealthy, reversing the extra tax cuts which the richest 5 per cent have received, as pledged, and by capping private rents, (and not benefit) for example and saving the amount that the State hands out to wealthy landlords, will also give Labour more room for manoeuvre to plan and prioritise further. Bearing in mind that Labour will certainly inherit public services with much of the former foundational structure gone – such as the health system, where thousands of staff have been cut, services privatised, and then there’s other areas of infrastructure that’s been badly neglected, it’s important that these issues are addressed, since repeal of legislation, for example, requires something else to be put in place, too.
Another example of raising revenue is the Job’s Guarantee (for all who wants one) and by the government paying a living wage, the private sector would have to increase their wages in order to gain workers. That will reduce the benefit bill. The Job’s Guarantee will also act as an “automatic stabiliser”, maintain or increase the workforce’s skills, reduce mental health problems and increase demand in the economy.
3) Miliband can be fiscally conservative whilst remaining socially progressive
Miliband’s pledge draws a line for day-to-day spending beyond which he will not cross, but it does not specify what he does ahead of that line. Under the coalition, savings were expected to be found under a ratio of 80:20 – 80% spending cuts to 20% tax rises. Miliband has indicated he will be significantly raising taxes for the wealthy whilst easing or even undoing spending cuts elsewhere. The Labour leader has already announced a bankers’ bonus, return of the 50p top rate of tax and a mansion tax, amongst other measures. The direction of travel is pretty clear.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are currently examining options for how Labour can fund additional much needed investment in health over and above current spending plans. There is much supporting evidence for this vital investment, and for the repeal of the Tory-led Health and Social Care Act 2012, which has steadily eroded health services, has led to deliberate underfunding by the government and to subsequent mass privatisation within the NHS.
4) Miliband can still undo spending cuts
Just because each pledge must be financially costed without resorting to borrowing, that doesn’t mean it can’t be undertaken. As Miliband specified, cuts can be undone if the funding is found from elsewhere.
The proposed bankers’ bonus has been matched to pledges, the mansion tax has already been matched to bringing back the 10p rate of income tax. If anything, Miliband’s announcement should prompt campaigners to redouble their efforts on crucial key issues. The more pressure there is, the more prominently those issues will feature in Labour’s priorities.
5) Miliband hasn’t yet ruled out radical options
Just because you’re not borrowing doesn’t mean you can’t spend. Britain has magicked £375 billion out of the air and handed it to banks as part of the quantitative easing programme. The Conservatives managed to provide the millionaires with a tax cut of more than £107,000 each per year. But if money can be printed for banks, money can also be printed to try other methods of kick-starting the economy, such as taking low earners out of income tax.
It’s worth considering that when public services are extensively privatised, as they have been this past four years, those public funds that were once available vanish into private, closed bank accounts. That money will have to be recouped and reinvested.
It’s worth bearing in mind that any government which introduces a policy like the Gagging Act, one that openly “monitors” the Right wing media for any whisper of “left wing bias”, that arranges the destruction of media hard drives because it doesn’t want the public to know the extent of government intrusion on our everyday private lives, is a government that will only ever use oppression to maintain its rule. It isn’t a democratic, open, accountable and reflective government: it is an authoritarian one, and it has nothing to offer most of us but fear, poverty, exploitation, hunger, repression, pain and a deep longing for the decent, civilised society we once had.
“Lynton Crosby, a man whose mission the Prime Minister describes as being “to destroy the Labour Party”. This is a Conservative party preparing to fight the dirtiest general election campaign that we have seen in this country for over 20 years. And the Crosbyisation of the Conservative Party has reached a new intensity as their leadership becomes increasingly desperate.
They have nothing to say about the cost of living crisis and have no vision for a better Britain. All they have left is resort to the lowest form of politics: that of division, of smear and character assassination. Millions of families face a cost of living crisis unequalled in their lifetimes.
And the general election will determine how our country responds. The next election is far too important to be conducted in the gutter. Britain can do better than this. ” Ed Miliband.
He’s right. We can do better than this.
The last four years have taken us on a nightmarish tour of socially dysfunctional, dystopian conservatism, and stranded us here, where the elite natives and tour operators speak an archaic language using narratives that translate as neofeudalism.
It’s time we went home.