CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond’s claim yesterday that “there are no unemployed people” is easy to dismiss as just a gaffe.
It’s a ludicrous statement but perhaps only marginally more so than stating that officially there are 1.4 million people unemployed — ignoring all those stuck in bogus self-employment, on zero-hours contracts, working part time when they need or want full-time hours, or have given up trying to find a suitable job entirely.
Like many recent “gaffes” by leading Tories, it’s more helpful to consider the line of thinking it reveals than to interpret it literally.
Hammond’s claim came in a discussion about new technology putting people out of work, his contention being that people displaced eventually find other jobs.
But, as with the Tories of 30 years ago, there is no thought to the conditions of those people made redundant, the hardships they endure, or the value of the jobs they did or what they might end up doing.
Or, as with the case of Britain’s miners, a determination to throw people on the scrapheap for self-serving aims, no matter the pain and destruction caused — to Britain as a whole as well as the communities directly affected.
That suffering, or the wider effects on our society of such economic change, do not feature in the Conservatives’ analysis. That’s only logical — they represent the owners of the country, who will use whatever technology or technique to increase their profits.
So they wave their hands and say that “the market” will sort things out. How things get “sorted out” is not their concern.
That is evident in something else Hammond said yesterday — rejecting calls for public spending to build houses as “there is no single magic bullet” and, anyway, it would “make the problem worse” by causing “more house price inflation.”
Never mind then that long-standing Tory and Con-Dem policy has been to inflate house prices — and effectively bung property developers cash — through the “help to buy” scheme. That has singularly failed to increase the number of houses built a year — why risk reducing profits?
“Failed” is perhaps the wrong word to use given that the government has no interest in identifying problems of concern to the British public or our country’s development and taking concrete, effective action to fix them.
Witness for instance the woeful response to the crisis at BiFab in Scotland — from both Westminster and Holyrood. We received more or less a shrug of the shoulders as the firm’s workers sought valiantly to save their jobs.
And these are jobs that absolutely must be saved. BiFab makes large parts for offshore wind and tidal power, and in a sane world it would be inundated with work and underpinned by government support rather than worrying about a partial payment on one contract.
That sane world requires an interventionist industrial policy, in contrast to the government’s delegation of decisions to City spivs and speculators.
It is reassuring then that we have a Labour Party which is unequivocally committed to using the tools of government to such ends, improving the lives of the many and ensuring high-quality, well-paid, secure jobs.
And doubly so that Scottish Labour members, affiliates and supporters have embraced this outlook through the election as leader of Richard Leonard.
Tory claims about “economic credibility” — already threadbare — become more transparent by the day as Hammond waffles on while John McDonnell spells out exactly what must be done and how.
We will see more sleights of hand and farcical claims in Wednesday’s Budget — Labour must cut through such nonsense and hammer home its detailed, robust plan to drag Britain out of the mire.