KEN LIVINGSTONE slams a government taking us off a precipice with no parachute
“TORY Britain in 2017: NHS crisis, social care nightmare, school budgets cut for first time since ’90s, cuts to disabled and riots in our prisons.”
This was how shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s tweet summed up austerity Britain on the eve of the recent Budget.
He could have added that 3,000 people use foodbanks each day and that over 4,000 people sleep rough each night.
And this of course is just the tip of the iceberg — the majority of people are now seeing a real squeeze in living standards and wages, which is set to deepen in the years ahead.
Yet despite this extraordinary backdrop, with economic difficulties heightening due to the Tories’ dogged insistence on both ideologically driven austerity and now pursuing a “hard Brexit,” Philip Hammond and Theresa May’s Budget represented a continuation of the same economic strategy.
This is an economic strategy that has failed.
It has seen the richest 1 per cent watch their wealth double while ordinary families struggle to make ends meet.
The chief executives of big companies are now paid 180 times more than the average worker and taxed less.
Labour has calculated that the net result of this Budget will see working people £1,400 worse off.
In an astonishing climbdown on Wednesday Hammond scrapped the £2 billion rise in national insurance contributions just a week after it was announced.
Yet we need to be clear that Hammond believed it was totally acceptable to on the one hand go ahead with £70bn worth of tax giveaways to those at the top, while introducing a £2bn tax hike for low and middle earners. It would be hard to find a clearer example of how unjust the Tories’ priorities in the area of taxation policy are.
Labour, including leader Jeremy Corbyn in his Budget response speech and shadow chancellor John McDonnell in a number of high-profile media appearances, had firmly opposed this rise and deserve credit for their role in forcing this humiliating reversal for the Chancellor.
John McDonnell was right to say this was the latest in a series of Tory Budget climbdowns, noting that “in 2015, we had the tax credit shambles.
“In 2016, we had personal independence payments reversal. Now in 2017 we have the U-turn on national insurance contributions.”
In a broader sense, what was most noticeable was that this was a Tory Budget that lacked a vision for a better future or to tackle the growing sense of insecurity many face.
The 4.5 million workers in Britain in insecure work, with 2.3 million working variable shift patterns, and 1.1 million on temporary contracts.
Yet with their “hard Brexit” strategy the Tories are actively contributing to a growing sense of uncertainty in the economy.
Indeed, the Brexit Secretary has even admitted this week that he hasn’t looked into the costs of the Prime Minister’s alleged negotiating “strategy.”
As Len McCluskey of Unite explained, the Budget speech “was absent of any sense that the Chancellor or the government grasped the enormity of the shock that Brexit will bring to core manufacturing industries,” with “none of the basic initiatives needed to demonstrate that the government is serious about making its industrial strategy work.”
And while the Chancellor has changed, the Tories are still not listening to the growing coalition of voices — from the experts at the IMF and OECD to our trade unions — who are saying consistently higher levels of government investment are needed to navigate the choppy waters ahead.
In contrast to the Tories, Labour is clear we need urgent and sustained investment in skills and infrastructure.
We need to invest not only in a major house-building programme, but also to modernise our transport system and install a speedier broadband service equivalent to those in the Far East.
This would lay the foundation for an influx of private-sector investment. By taking a lead in tackling climate change Britain could create new high-skill, high-tech, high-wage jobs, which would also boost our exports.
What makes me angry about the state of “austerity Britain” is that my generation is the luckiest in human history.
Born into post-war Britain’s welfare state we all got a job, healthcare, free education and help to buy our homes or pay our rents.
Instead, in Tory Britain today, four million children are living in poverty, this will rise by another million in coming years, and the government will do nothing about it.
We didn’t lose the last general election because we were too leftwing but because we didn’t have a coherent economic strategy.
Now, Jeremy and John’s economic plans to rebalance and modernise our economy can both restore Labour’s economic credibility and offer millions of voters the hope of a better future while also underpinning popular policies such as a properly funded NHS, a £10 an hour minimum wage and an end to the publicsector pay gap.
It’s our duty to try and make this happen, so my children and grandchildren have the same opportunities we had.