GEORGE OSBORNE’S Autumn Statement confirms his critics’ key accusation that his capitalist austerity policy is based on political choices rather than economic priorities.
His decision to scrap planned cuts to tax credits for millions of low-paid workers and to police budgets in England and Wales bear this out.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell had promised Osborne that Labour would not seek to make political capital if he agreed not to introduce unjust tax credit cuts.
He was as good as his word, although the same could not be said for the Chancellor as he revealed his U-turn on police budgets.
Osborne’s oblique reference to “some people” advocating that police budgets should be cut by 10 per cent was a pointed jibe at shadow home secretary Andy Burnham.
In fairness, Burnham had simply relayed conversations with senior police officers who, fearful of 30 per cent cuts known to be in the pipeline, had suggested that they could possibly bear 10 per cent reductions but not three times that figure.
The Chancellor’s slippery ploy of painting Burnham into a “cut the police” corner and dodging responsibility for his own previous stance epitomises his ongoing campaign to project himself as David Cameron’s successor.
His praise-singers constantly laud his supposed economic expertise and political surefootedness, but his tricks don’t always work.
Imagine if the opposition front bench had followed the advice of leading New Labourites to meet the Tories halfway on welfare cuts to show Labour’s economic “credibility” and fitness for high office and, as a consequence, urged a phasing in of tax credit cuts rather than their cancellation.
Osborne would have had a field day, outflanking McDonnell in this area.
Labour has to be clear on its principles, especially in light of Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning victory as party leader when his successful anti-austerity campaign set him apart from his triangulating and trimming New Labour opponents.
The Chancellor is not above reaching into Labour’s back pocket to purloin policies at odds with his basic approach in the search for votes.
His unveiling of an apprenticeship levy on big business to raise £3bn annually and a new 3 per cent stamp duty on buy-to-let landlords are examples of this.
However, the preponderance of his proposals are designed to benefit Tory supporters in the City.
Affordable housing — or a lack of it — remains of massive public concern, but Osborne’s choice of assisting a relatively small number of people to put down a deposit on buying a home misses the point entirely.
Gimmicky slogans about turning “Generation Rent into Generation Buy” are meaningless for those whose incomes are insufficient for home purchase.
As housing charity Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb says: “Building more genuinely affordable homes to rent is still absolutely essential, especially when there are still plans to force councils to sell off large swathes of their social housing stock.”
House prices across Britain leapt by 6.1 per cent last year, more than double the rate of increase for wages, so the possibility of buying a home becomes more remote for many people trapped in the private rented sector.
Rather than tackle homelessness through a major council housebuilding programme, the Chancellor has opted for an approach that will fuel an already overheated housing market that benefits property speculators most.
Despite his wild claims about a successful economy and building a Northern Powerhouse, the steel industry in northern England and southern Scotland is gazing into the abyss.
Thousands of HMRC staff whose offices will close face a similar bleak future despite hollow government words about dealing with offshore corporate tax dodging.
Osborne remains committed to capitalist austerity and working people will continue to pay the price for it.