Tag: Autumn statement

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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“Traditions are not killed by facts” – George Orwell.

The Conservatives are creatures of habit rather than reason. Traditional. That is the why their policies are so stifling and anti-progressive for the majority of us. It’s why Tory policies don’t meet public needs.

There’s always an air of doom and gloom when we have a Tory government, and a largely subdued, depressed, repressed nation, carrying vague and fearful intuitions that something truly catastrophic is just around the corner.

I can remember the anxiety and creeping preternatural fear amongst young people in the eighties, and our transcendent defiance, which we carried like the banners at a Rock Against Racism march, back in the Thatcher era. We always witness the social proliferation of fascist ideals with a Tory government, too. It stems from the finger-pointing divide and rule mantra: it’s them not us, them not us. But history refutes as much as it verifies, and we learned that it’s been the Tories all along.

With a Conservative government, we are always fighting something. Poverty, social injustice: we fight for political recognition of our fundamental rights, which the Tories always circumvent. We fight despair and material hardship, caused by the rising cost of living, low wages, high unemployment and recession that is characteristic of every Tory government.

I think people often mistranslate what that something is. Because Tory rhetoric is all about othering: dividing, atomising of society into bite-sized manageable pieces by amplifying a narrative of sneaking suspicion and hate thy neighbour via the media.

The Tories are and always have been psychocrats. They insidiously intrude into people’s everyday thoughts and try to micro-manage and police them. They use Orwellian-styled rhetoric crowded with words like “market forces”, “meritocracy” “autonomy”, “incentivisation”, “democracy”, “efficient, small state”, and even “freedom”, whilst all the time they are actually extending a brutal, bullying, extremely manipulative, all-pervasive authoritarianism.

The Conservative starting point is control of the media and information. All Conservatives do this, and historically, regardless of which country they govern. (As well as following the hyperlinks (in blue) to British and Canadian media takeovers, also, see the Australian media Tory takeover via Murdoch, from last year: The political empire of the News Corp chairman.)

As we saw earlier this year when the Tories launched an attack on Oxfam, any implied or frank criticism of Conservative policies or discussion of their very often terrible social consequences is stifled, amidst the ludicrous accusations of “politically biased.”

When did concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”? I think that casually spiteful and dismissive admission of indifference tells us all we need to know about the current government’s priorities. And no amount of right-wing propaganda will hide the fact that poverty and inequality rise under every Tory government. And how is it possible to discuss poverty meaningfully without reference to the policies that cause it? That isn’t “bias”: it’s truthful. Tory policies indicate consistently that when it comes to spending our money, the Tories are very generous towards the wealthy, and worse than parsimonious regarding the rest of us.

Then there are the Tory pre-election promises, all broken and deleted from the internet. And valid criticism of their spinner of Tory yarns and opposition smears, also deleted. This is not a democratic government that values political accountability, nor is it one that is prepared to bear any scrutiny at all.

The Conservatives are attempting to intimidate the BBC (again) into silence regarding its candid commentary regarding the autumn statement made by Osborne, exposing the vast scale of cuts to come for the British public. I’m pleased to see the BBC hitting back, for once, with a robust defence, declaring that: “We’re satisfied our coverage has been fair and balanced and we’ll continue to ask ministers the questions our audience want answered.”

It was BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith’s description of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) response to the autumn statement document as “the book of the doom” and his suggestion that the UK was heading “back to the land of Road to Wigan Pier” that provoked Osborne’s outrage.

But whilst journalists are hardly unknown for hyperbole, Smith certainly can be cleared of this charge. Because many agree that the figures contained in the OBR blue book are truly remarkable and worry-provoking. Many of us have concluded the same, from the OBR and Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) to an army of quietly reflective bloggers, who have collectively anticipated this purely ideological outcome for some time.

The BBC are absolutely right to point out to the public that there will be severe social repercussions as a consequence of the scale of cuts that Osborne is planning, especially given that sixty percent of the cuts are yet to come.

The judgements of the OBR, which Osborne set up, and IFS, were at least as damning as the BBC’s, but it’s worth noting that the Chancellor doesn’t publicly attack either report. Because he can’t.

Instead the Conservatives have accused the BBC of “bias” and “systematic exaggeration,”  David Cameron and George Osborne launched an unprecedented attack on the coverage of the Autumn Statement. However, the Conservatives have been openly policing the media for a while. (See: Tories to closely monitor BBC for left wing bias ahead of party conference season and: Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.)

Senior Tory MP Andrew Bridgen suggested there was a risk that unless the BBC was “scrupulously fair” in its reporting, it may “drive voters into the arms of Labour”, adding the threat “and may even find its future funding arrangements affected.”

A blatant threat.

On Thursday, Bridgen wrote to Rona Fairhead, the BBC Trust’s chairperson, to complain “about a pattern of systematic exaggeration in the BBC’s reporting of the Autumn Statement”. It’s not his first complaint about alleged bias, either: he whined when the TUC’s senior economist Duncan Weldon became Newsnight’s new economics correspondent earlier this year.

Mr Bridgen said he wanted “to seek assurances that in the remaining six months until the general election your coverage will demonstrate the impartiality and balance that the public, and indeed the BBC charter, demand”.

He added: “Over the last four years the entire nation has pulled together to achieve something many said could not be done: we are now the fastest growing advanced economy in the developed world. The sacrifices and hard work of the British people are ill-served by pessimistic reporting which obscures our economic success with the language of fear and doom.”

I don’t think this is about “impartiality” or what best serves the British people. This is about the Conservatives not getting their own way, so they resort to bullying and  attempts to discredit people who have simply told the truth.

The Chancellor responded angrily to the references to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in the Today report on BBC Radio 4. He said: “I would have thought the BBC would have learned from the last four years that its totally hyperbolic coverage of spending cuts has not been matched by what has actually happened. I had all that when I was interviewed four years ago and has the world fallen in? No it has not.”

Well, that all depends George. For many people, the only genuine growth we’ve seen is in poverty, inequality, destitution, hunger, suffering and referrals to foodbanks. And deaths. So yes, for growing numbers, their’ world has fallen in.

A BBC spokesman said the BBC was satisfied that the Today programme’s coverage had been “fair and balanced and we gave the Chancellor plenty of opportunity to respond on the programme.”

And the comments were justified because the Office for Budget Responsibility had itself said that nominal government consumption will fall to its lowest level since 1938, the BBC said.

Both the OBR and IFS said in their responses to the autumn statement that Britain has not seen public spending reduced to this level as a proportion of GDP since the grim days of the 1930s.

The public sector spending cuts over the next five years set out in the autumn statement may force a “fundamental re-imagining of the state,” the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in their report.

The warning from the IFS – Britain’s public spending analysts – came only hours after Osborne had angrily rounded on the BBC, accusing its reporters of “totally hyperbolic” reporting about his spending plans and “conjuring up bogus images of the 1930s depression”.

The IFS confirmed that the scale of cuts to departmental budgets and local government would reduce the role of the state to a point where it would have “changed beyond recognition.” The government’s spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), also said yesterday that Osborne’s statement indicated that with the cuts set out in Treasury assumptions, we would see the state reduced to its smallest size relative to GDP for 80 years – since the 1930s.

It was about this era, the Great Depression, against which Orwell set The Road to Wigan Pier, in his account of the bleak living conditions, social injustices, suffering and misery of the working class in the Northwest of England. Norman Smith made an apt comparison.

Scenes from the Jarrow Crusade, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walk to London where they will hand in a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930's hits hard

Scenes from the Jarrow Hunger March, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walked to London where they handed a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930’s hit hard

Osborne admitted to John Humphrys two hours later, that “difficult” decisions on welfare would include freezing working age benefits for two years and lowering the welfare cap on spending from £26,000 for a family each year on benefits to a maximum of £23,000. But he maintained his glib assurances that the outlook was not as grim as Smith and Humphrys were claiming.

With the cost of living rising sharply year after year, and with the catastrophic consequences of the first wave of welfare “reforms” now clearly evident, it is difficult to envisage how the outlook for the poorest can be deemed anything other than enduringly, grindingly bleak.

If any evidence was needed that the Conservatives fear the political consequences of the cuts to come, the assault on the BBC’s coverage of the autumn statement has certainly provided it. The Conservative responses are strictly about discrediting the BBC as a means of pre-election damage-limitation, and not about the accuracy or “bias” of the reporting, because Osborne had not anticipated that the real consequences of his budget plans would be shared with the public. Most people don’t, after all, read the OBR or IFS forecasts and reports. As it is, Osborne had set out to mislead the public, and was well and truly exposed.

The IFS director, Paul Johnson, said: “The chancellor is right to point out that it has proved possible to implement substantial cuts over this parliament. One cannot just look at the scale of implied cuts going forward and say they are unachievable. But it is surely incumbent upon anyone set on taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Clegg has claimed co-authorship of the budget statement. Clegg’s absence from parliament for the third Wednesday in a row suggests he is farcically trying to distance himself from David Cameron and Osborne in the run-up to the election.

However, he attempted to take credit for the central policies of the statement, including the stamp duty overhaul unveiled by Osborne, when questioned on his LBC 97.3 radio show by Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor.

“Everything in that autumn statement is there because we’ve agreed it and I fully support it,” Clegg said.

The BBC exposed the chasm between what the Tory-led Coalition plan and what they are prepared to disclose and discuss publicly. That’s because of a chasm that exists between Tory ideology and a genuine economic problem-solving approach to policy: Osborne’s autumn budget statement was entirely about political gesturing, designed to divert attention from the sheer extent of social and economic damage  wreaked by five years of strictly ideologically-prompted policy.

This is a Chancellor who rested all of his credibility on paying down the debt and has borrowed more than every Labour government combined.

It must be abundantly clear that the Tory aim of much bigger and destructive cuts after 2015 is not about deficit reduction, but the destruction of the public sector, our services and social safety nets, the undoing of a century of our the hard-won achievements of civil rights movements, and all in favour of greedy, elevated, unbridled market forces.

Conservatism is centred around the preservation of traditional social hierarchy and inequality. Tories see this, erroneously, as an essential element for expanding economic opportunity. But never equal opportunity.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

It is these core beliefs that fuel Osborne’s stubborn adherence to austerity policies, even though it is by now patently obvious that austerity isn’t working for the economy, and for majority of the public. It never will.

942124_214298768721179_2140233912_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

Related

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Ed Balls: response to the Autumn Statement

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

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Osborne’s austerity measures have achieved nothing, except deepening poverty, widening economic inequality, and destitution for the poorest and most vulnerable communities – and Osborne announced in his Autumn statement that we face at least four more years of it.

Austerity is not an economic necessity, nor is it temporary measure to balance the books, but rather, it reflects the Conservative’s long-standing ideological commitment to dismantle the gains and achievements of the post war settlement: public services, the welfare state and the National Health Service.

The plans, according to the Treasury spending watchdog, the Office of Budget Responsibility, also presume the loss of a further one million public sector jobs by 2020, a renewed public sector pay squeeze and a further freezing of tax credits.

Robert Chote, the Office for Budget Responsibility chairman, conceded that the projections sent to him by the Treasury meant there would have to be a “very sharp squeeze” on spending in the next parliament. He added that so far the UK has seen 40 percent of the necessary cuts in this parliament and the next 60 percent would fall under the next parliament. 

The chairman says that spending on public services as a share of gross domestic product is set to fall by considerably more over the next five years than it did over the last five years, accounting for the lion’s share of the shift from a budget deficit of percent of GDP to a surplus of around 1 percent of GDP. He says that spending in non-protected departments will fall from £147 billion in 2014/15 to £86 billion in 2019/20 – on top of all the cuts to spending in recent years.

With a shortfall in tax receipts set to increase the size of the deficit by £25 billion during the next parliament, the Office for Budget Responsibility said the only way Osborne could balance the books would be through shrinking the state to a level not seen since before the Second World War:

“Total public spending is now projected to fall to 35.2 percent of GDP by 2019-20, taking it below the previous post-war lows reached in 1957-8 and 1999-2000 to what would probably be its lowest level in 80 years”.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has written an extremely critical economic forecast and analysis of the spending cuts, clearly expressing the risks that the Chancellor is running and the scale of the damage his strategy will inflict on what remains of our public services.

Key findings from the damning analysis are:

The scale of planned post-election spending cuts is severe.

“Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, spending on public services, administration and grants by central government is projected to fall from 21.2 per cent to 12.6 per cent of GDP and from £5,650 to £3,880 per head in 2014-15 prices. Around 40 per cent of these cuts would have been delivered during this Parliament, with around 60 per cent to come during the next. The implied squeeze on local authority spending is similarly severe.

And as stated: “Total public spending is now projected to fall to 35.2 per cent of GDP in 2019-20, taking it below the previous post-war lows reached in 1957-58 and 1999-00 to what would probably be its lowest level in 80 years.”

The spending cuts are playing the most significant role in deficit reduction and of the tax rises Osborne introduced, it’s the most regressive (VAT) which are making the largest contribution:

“Just over 80 per cent of the reduction is accounted for by lower public spending. Just under 20 percent of the drop in borrowing is accounted for by higher receipts, with the majority having taken place by 2012-13, largely as result of rises in the standard rate of VAT.”

So despite the cuts, the Chancellor has failed to meet any of his original targets (to have closed the structural deficit over a parliament and to have debt falling as a proportion of GDP) and it’s unlikely that his new plan can be delivered.

The OBR say:

“On the Government’s latest plans and medium-term assumptions, we are now in the fifth year of what is projected to be a 10-year fiscal consolidation.

It remains on course to miss its supplementary target, to have net debt falling as a share of GDP in 2015-16.

On our best estimate of a like-for-like basis, borrowing is expected to be higher in the initial years of the forecast and slightly lower from 2016-17 than we thought in March. The largest single-year effect of a Government decision comes via its new assumption for total spending in 2019/20, although this does not appear in the Treasury’s table of policy decisions. This implies another cut in current spending by central government departments in that year equivalent to £14.5 billion”.

Wage growth has been very poor, which has affected income tax revenues. And growth is expected to slow after the election next year. In part, this will be because of the scale of government cuts, which of course also bring real economic risks.

The OBR say:

“Lower wage growth has reduced our income tax forecast. The fall in unemployment is not yet pushing pay settlements up significantly.

We still expect the economy to lose momentum through 2015 – and by a little more than we thought in March – thanks to weaker external demand and the expectation that consumer spending growth will slow to rates more in line with growth in people’s incomes.

The Government’s fiscal plans imply three successive years of cash reductions in government consumption of goods and services from 2016 onwards, the first since 1948. The corresponding real cuts directly reduce GDP. The economy should be able to adjust to such changes over time, but it is unlikely to be a simple process when monetary policy is already very loose and external demand subdued.

Over the course of the next Parliament, we project that government employment will fall by 1.0 million, compared to the 0.4 million decline that we are likely to have seen over this Parliament.”

The OBR’s damning conclusion is that real wages will not be back to even the pre-recession peak within five years (as opposed to household debt which is well on track to surpass it’s previous highs).

The OBR’s critical report on Osborne’s budget plans warns us that 60 percent  of the spending cuts have not yet been implemented in this parliament, and Osborne’s planned cuts will mean that by the end of the next government,  public spending is projected to fall to its lowest level as a proportion of GDP since the 1930s. And this was a period in history when we had no public services, no NHS, no effective welfare support, no education system, no social housing, no legal aid. Those post-war provisions have formed the very foundations of our democracy.

Osborne’s Autumn Statement has revealed that the Conservative mission to shrink the State will be complete by the budget of 2019/20 if their current budget plans remain unchallenged, and if the Conservatives remain in office.

They must not be permitted to inflict any further damage on the foundations of our once democratic society. We must ensure that they don’t.

From the Independent – The Autumn Statement: 4 charts that show how badly George Osborne has got it wrong:

GDP growth has been much lower than forecast in 2010


Government borrowing has been considerably higher every year

As a result the national debt is much higher as a share of GDP than predicted in 2010

Wages have also grown much less than expectations four years ago

 In the Autumn statement, the growth forecast for 2014 is likely to be, finally, in line with the 2010 forecast, at around three percent. But the forecast for public borrowing for 2014-15 is expected to be remain close to £100bn, meaning the deficit will remain stuck in cash terms. If the Chancellor ever had any genuine hopes of balancing the books by the end of the Parliament, the chances of fulfilling them  disappeared long ago.

Despite facing a global recession, the Labour Government invested in our public services, and borrowed substantially less in thirteen years than the Coalition have in just three years. UK citizens were sheltered very well from the worst of the global bank-induced crash.

Gordon Brown got it right in his championing of the G20 fiscal stimulus, agreed at the London summit of early April 2010, which was a continuation of his policies that had served to steer the UK economy out of the consequences of a global recession, and to protect citizens from the consequences.

Osborne’s policy of imposing austerity and budget cuts on an economy that was actually recovering was a catastrophic error. The austerity cuts have propelled the economy backwards and into depression; and, far from using public spending as a countervailing force against the cutbacks in private sector investment, the Coalition’s budget cuts served to aggravate the crisis. Many people are suffering terribly as a consequence, many  have been reduced to a struggle for basic survival.

People have died as a direct consequence of the austerity cuts.

Further cuts to provisions, services and welfare – support for the poorest – is unthinkable and untenable.

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Update: The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have also agreed with this analysis. In their report, they say: “The Autumn Statement means the UK is set for cuts on a colossal scale. One thing is for sure. If we move in anything like this direction, whilst continuing to protect health and pensions, the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition.”

 

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent and often prophetic memes