Monday 21 March 2016

Are people finally waking up to the fact that ideological austerity is a con?

He might be the golden boy of the sociopathic right-wing press barons, but there's no disguising the fact that George Osborne's 2016 budget was a massive failure.

It seems an awful long time ago that George Osborne was booed by the crowd at the 2012 Paralympic Games. Since then he has continued his ideological austerity agenda, merrily slashing away at infrastructure, services and social support to the most vulnerable people in society whilst simultaneously showering corporations the asset rich and high earners with one tax break after another. Even winning a renewed mandate at the 2015 General Election (from 24% of the electorate) to continue doing it.

Austerity is a choice

Over the years many people have tried to point out that ideological austerity is a choice not a necessity, and furthermore, that it's incredibly harmful to the UK economy.

That austerity is a political policy not an economic necessity, and that austerity is harmful to the UK economy are hardly contentious positions to hold, yet the abject refusal of the
 vast majority of the mainstream press to scrutinise the underlying Tory assumption that austerity is necessary has created a mediascape where those who do speak out against austerity can sound like out-of-touch crackpots, rather than like people who actually understand a few basics in political theory, economic history, and macroeconomics.

George Osborne and the Tories love to play up the level of public borrowing as if it's catastrophically high (it isn't) and they love to pretend the solution to high public borrowing is to slash public spending (it isn't).

When the Tories were enabled into power by the Lib-Dems in May 2010 the level of UK public debt was well below 70% of GDP. To put this into perspective, the average level of public debt for the entire 20th Century was 81% of GDP, and public debt peaked out at a huge 238% of GDP after the chaos of the Second World War.

When Labour were elected after WWII, instead of cutting back public spending and cancelling as much infrastructure investment as they could, they set in motion the most ambitious programme of government spending in history. They founded the NHS, built hundreds of thousands of affordable houses, rebuilt the UK's war-shattered public infrastructure, introduced the welfare state and legal aid, massively improved pensions and nationalised most of the core industries so that they could be used for the public good, not for private profit.

And do you know what? The national debt fell dramatically as a percentage of GDP, and then continued to fall steadily until Margaret Thatcher and her bunch of right-wing fanatics tore up the post-war consensus in 1979.

Expert opinion

The majority of trained economists believe that austerity has harmed the UK economy
and only 15% of them are prepared to say that they think it's a good idea, yet the Tories, and a hefty proportion of the public prefer to ignore the expert opinion in favour of the "let's cut our way to growth" austerity narrative.

It's likely that an awful lot of Tory MPs fully understand that austerity is a political strategy that has nothing to do with reducing the scale of public borrowing, and everything to do with ensuring the upwards transfer of wealth from the poor and ordinary to corporations and the extremely wealthy (where the Tory party source the vast majority of the donations), however I hesitate to believe that the majority of people who voted Conservative in 2015 understood that Tory fearmongering about the scale of public borrowing is just a cynical ruse to get people to support a political policy that favours the very rich at the expense of everyone else.

International opinion

International opinion is strongly against ideological austerity. In most countries that have been forced to endure ideological austerity the anti-austerity movement has led to a vibrant resurgence of left-wing and liberal political parties and rapid declines in popularity for the parties that imposed austerity. We could look at Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy or Canada for examples of powerful anti-austerity campaigns, yet the clearest example of all is actually right here in the UK. The SNP set out a very clear and coherent anti-austerity anti-Tory narrative before the 2015 General Election and ended up taking an incredible 56 of the 59 Westminster seats afforded to Scotland.

The English seem to be one of the only peoples to have been made to endure harsh ideological austerity, yet formed practically no resistance to it whatever (before Jeremy Corbyn burst out of nowhere to become Labour Party leader, the biggest opponents to ideological austerity in English politics were the Green Party).

Make do and mend

If the evidence shows that the scale of public borrowing isn't actually that high in a historical context, and that at a previous time when public debt was actually much higher, the government of the day reduced it significantly by investing in infrastructure, housing, jobs and welfare ... And if the majority of trained economists reject ideological austerity as the economically destructive political ideology that it is ... And if ideological austerity is deeply unpopular across the globe ... Why has the "let's cut our way to growth" narrative been so damned popular with the English?

Some might point to the fact that the UK media is the most right-wing biased in Europe; some might point to the fact that the main opposition party decided to commit electoral suicide in 2015 by agreeing with the ridiculous Tory proposition that there is no alternative to "let's cut our way to growth" austerity economics; some might blame our outdated and bizarrely unrepresentative electoral system that locks smaller parties out of the political system; but I have a theory that in England there's still some kind of cultural hangover from the austere "make do and mend" era of the 1940s and 1950s.

Maybe English people buy into the ludicrous, economically illiterate, anti-historical "let's cut our way to growth" narrative because they just like the story of everyone making little sacrifices for the greater good. Maybe they don't like austerity because they're "I'm alright Jack" types who want to see the poor and vulnerable hammered so that the rich can have even more for themselves, maybe they support ideological austerity because they actually believe in the socialistic ideal of everyone making a contribution for "the greater good", but that they just don't realise that under Tory rule "the greater good" we're all sacrificing for is nothing more than the enrichment of the establishment class.

Maybe the English yearn to hand in their pots and pans to be turned into tanks to beat the Nazis just like their forefathers did, but now there are no Nazis, only a massively over-hyped public debt and a bunch of conniving Tory politicians collecting up the sacrifices of the poor and ordinary to be consolidated into obscene payouts for the tiny super-wealthy minority who bankroll their party. 

Are people finally waking up

A February 2016 poll by BMG for the London Evening Standard reveals that public enthusiasm for ideological austerity is on the wane. The number of people who strongly support ideological austerity has dropped to just 7% of the population, while only 28% supported the proposition that austerity is good for the UK economy.

When the results are broken down by party it becomes clear that Tory supporters make up a significant proportion of the pro-austerity camp. 61% of Tories think austerity is good for the economy, compared to just 13% of Labour supporters*. Interestingly ideological austerity is actually more popular with Lib-Dem voters (32%) than it is with UKIP voters (25%). The poll didn't bother to break down the views of Green, SNP or Plaid Cymru supporters, but it would be fair to guess that the response would be pretty close to 0% support from them, given their very strong anti-austerity positions of their parties.

It's worth bearing in mind that this poll was conducted a month before George Osborne's disastrous "budget of failure" and given the political fallout from that it seems likely that public opinion will have shifted further away from austerity.


A hell of a lot of people used to buy into George Osborne's absurd "let's cut our way to growth" austerity narrative, but public opinion seems to be gradually shifting away from it. So the question is this: Were you one of the first people to recognise that ideological austerity is a socially and economically destructive con designed to transfer wealth from the majority of people to the super-rich minority, or are you determined to be one of the last?

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* If ideological austerity is so unpopular with Labour supporters, what on earth could have made the pre-2015 Labour leadership think it was a good idea to run an austerity-lite election campaign? Surely it was obvious that for every soft-Tory vote they won with their ridiculous austerity-lite agenda, they'd end up driving away multiple previously loyal Labour voters?

Austerity is a con
George Osborne's £22 billion rip-off

1 comment:

bobbykins said...

Well written article ....needs sharing widely to expose the lies and corruption and greed of the Tory government x