"Britain is on the right track," Chancellor George Osborne declared at the start of his Autumn Statement last week.
This astonishing remark was followed by the ominous news that the cuts-mad government had "much more to do" and that "turning back now would be a disaster."
Osborne boasted that the deficit had fallen by a quarter in two years and would continue to fall, made some dubious claims about private-sector job creation and waffled on about how two years ago Britain was in a "danger zone" but was now a "safe haven."
It's not clear what it's a safe haven from - certainly not poverty, unemployment or spending cuts.
He continued with a rather surprising series of forecasts about growth every year through 2017 and an ever-reducing debt and deficit up to that time (though the debt is currently bigger than it was in 2010).
Osborne's vacuous optimism reminded me of Gordon Brown's predictions of the end of boom and bust, an impossible dream in a capitalist economy.
And his pretensions of growth rang hollow when combined with his prescription of more of the cuts that have done so much damage to the economy already.
Welfare is of course his top target. The Chancellor fudged the issue by dividing pensions and pensioners from the rest of the welfare budget and claiming that pensions are rising faster than earnings or inflation. He ignored the price pensioners pay when health and social care cuts hit their communities, or charges are introduced for access to day-care centres.
He was very proud of having "saved" £18 billion from the welfare bill already but sniped that over the last five years "those on out-of-work benefits have seen their incomes rise twice as fast as those in work."
Benefits have been linked to inflation because they barely keep people afloat anyway, but the suggestion of equivalence to a salaried income is part of the Tory-Lib Dem narrative that people become unemployed by choice and enjoy trying to survive on benefits.
Osborne did not of course blame the public-sector pay freeze or the dire state of the economy for wages failing to keep pace with inflation, which is the real scandal here.
No, it was "strivers" versus "skivers" again - a nasty means of trying to divide the working poor from the unemployed poor.
The next day the welfare debate kicked off. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who made his name in opposition by visiting many of the poorest places in Britain promising change, didn't bother to show up.
Instead we were blessed with the Minister of State, Steve Webb, who again made a vain attempt to separate pensioners from the rest of the benefit system and attempted to laud below-inflation increases of 1 per cent by constantly referring to the consumer price index - a government invention which removes housing costs from calculations of inflation and hides the extent to which people on benefits are seeing their incomes reduced.
The crucial issues on welfare are straightforward. Everyone on benefit suffers since the rise is less than inflation.
If you're on disability benefits it's even worse as you're being faced with Atos interviews attempting to get you off benefits altogether.
And housing benefit is capped below the market rate for rent.
All that's before the overall benefit cap is implemented in April, an attack on everyone who relies on benefits but particularly on those in high-cost housing areas such as central London or other big cities.
Webb made a slight nod to huge rent rises in London by saying the government would set aside £140 million over two years "to help those people in areas where rent increases are highest or there is a shortage of affordable housing," but at less than £7m for each of London's 20 most vulnerable boroughs it's wholly inadequate. The only way of addressing the housing crisis is to build council housing and to control private-sector rents.
Labour failed to vote against the benefit cap when it was introduced into Parliament because it falls into the same trap and doesn't wish to be associated with what the mainstream media call "benefit culture."
But those of us who did vote against the cap will also vote against the package of benefit changes the government is now proposing.
The reason is quite simply that if we believe it is the duty of the state to protect people from the disasters of unemployment, poverty and homelessness then the state has to provide the means to do that.
The Tories have never accepted the principle of the welfare state and in reality Webb's statements indicate that the Lib Dems in the coalition no longer accept that the state has any responsibility to defend people from disaster.
Opinion polls run regularly by right-wing newspapers claim that the public are appalled at the levels of benefit paid and are opposed to any increase.
Even if these polls were correct, which I doubt, the issue is surely one of principle. If Labour believes in anything it has to be the duty of collective provision of health, education, housing and welfare, even in a capitalist economy.
I hope that pressure on the Labour front bench initiated by a Facebook statement by my colleague John McDonnell will finally encourage the whole Labour vote to be against the benefit changes.
Poverty is not caused simply by inadequate benefits though. It's caused by hugely expensive housing costs, low wages and the exclusion of young people from the adult minimum wage and adult rates of housing benefit.
These are desperate times for many of the most vulnerable people in Britain. It's Labour's job to stand up for the principles of the labour movement and show courage and leadership.
It's also time to try to gain public control over the economy, and renew economic planning through public ownership of key industries such as railways, transport and energy supply.
It is market chaos that has brought poverty and unemployment to the streets of Britain. Without challenging the cause, we won't find the solution.
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