After six years of Tory rule it’s clear for all to see that their cuts agenda isn’t working for anybody – except the 1 per cent, says TIM ROACHE
THE Chancellor’s Autumn Statement later this month comes at a crossroads for our country.
The new Prime Minister has sacked George Osborne but the government has not yet ended his poisonous policies.
If Philip Hammond wants to make any kind of mark at all then he must kill stone dead George Osborne’s austerity policies.
Remember, austerity was partly justified by Osborne in 2010 on the need to keep credit rating agencies happy and maintain the confidence of the markets — an absurd and flawed basis at the time which resulted in sluggish recovery, greater insecurity, a decline in wages and the erosion of public services.
Osborne’s justification was insincere and the motivation was ideologically driven by the interests of the 1 per cent. After the EU referendum we are clearly well beyond what the ratings agencies may or may not think. That ship has well and truly sailed.
The irony for Osborne and David Cameron is that their austerity policies created many of the conditions in which the Leave campaign prospered and finished off their careers.
No-one would have batted an eye at the bus adverts promising much-needed funds for the NHS if we believed it was already fully funded.
Instead it is a struggle to get appointments, hospital services are closing, blue-light ambulances are missing their targets, and the Health Secretary is driving doctors either out of the country or into early retirement.
Similar mistakes were made with housing. If the government had invested in council housebuilding after the financial crash and recognised the opportunity as well as the need, then not only would we have shorter waiting lists but housing would not be viewed through the prism of migration.
We’d also have many thousands more younger people employed working in trades.
There’d have been more of a sense among working-class people throughout the country that things could and would get better.
For many voters, voting to leave the European Union was presented as a solution to austerity.
We had Tory MPs and Leave campaigners promise that leaving the EU would mean an end to austerity. In April, arch-Thatcherite John Redwood wrote in the Guardian: “I want to end austerity. Voters want prosperity, not austerity … If we leave the EU we will regain control of our own money. We could increase existing budgets and end the upcoming reductions.”
I disagree with this analysis, which ignores the importance of trade to the economy. But the sheer cynicism is staggering and sickening given everything this government has put the country through, with those with the least paying the highest price of all.
Redwood is right about one thing — voters want prosperity not austerity. Yet on Monday next week the Tory government will be ploughing ahead with an ever-lower benefit cap which will affect 116,000 families by up to £6,000 a year, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing. It will push 300,000 children closer to homelessness. It is cruel, it is distressing and it must stop.
There are no shortages of moral and political arguments for announcing the end of austerity, but there is a practical one too.
The government has said it wants to have an industrial strategy. It has even changed the name of a government department to reflect this.
Yet continuing with even more austerity measures will reduce the ingredients that are crucial for a functioning industrial strategy.
We won’t just see reduced spending, but lower demand, fragile confidence, insufficient public investment in both the economy and public services which invest in the people would continue to be undermined.
Given the uncertainty of the coming years, why would a company invest in Britain if its own government is not prepared to?
Industrial strategy relies as much on the classroom as it does on the boardroom. Throughout the 21st century, our young people are going to need to be trained and retrained countless times to meet challenges and create new opportunities.
Jobs that don’t yet exist will come and go through the course of their working lives. Further education is going to be critical to all our economic health.
Yet in the first five years of Tory-led government, adult skills funding didn’t increase — it was cut by 35 per cent. Colleges have been pushed to the brink of collapse when they should have been flourishing and equipping us for today and tomorrow.
Politics is in a state of flux. Expectations have been raised through the referendum. If Theresa May falls short, then her honeymoon will come to a juddering halt. Our job is to be ready with the answers, the arguments and the organisation for the Labour alternative.