Following an election in which he won a mere 36 per cent of the vote, a paper thin mandate, David Cameron is guilty of an alarmingly similar approach.
The so-called deficit ‘emergency’ was ironically caused not by profligate government spending but by a failure of the market-based international banking system and the triumph of unbridled greed amongst the super rich. David Cameron’s immediate excuse to act was the deficit generated by the previous Labour government to stabilise our banks and successfully mitigate the social effects of the global recession which followed the credit crunch. He did so by launching an assault on the post-war state settlement more extreme than anything Mrs Thatcher’s most swivel-eyed fanatics could have fantasised about. The theatrically named ‘emergency budget’ began this process and the October spending review will continue it.
That there was no electoral mandate to introduce the largest public expenditure cuts in British peacetime history is clear. Those who voted Liberal Democrat had a right to assume that their chosen party would stick with the economic policy clearly set out in their manifesto at the election. Like Labour’s, this emphasised the danger of cutting the deficit too far or too fast while economic recovery was still fragile. In fact it was this economic position which achieved majority endorsement once the votes were counted. But within five days of polling day with the baubles of ministerial office dangling enticingly before them, the Liberal Democrats underwent a conversion of Damascene proportions on the deficit. Much to the astonishment and anger of many of their voters, they joined the deficit hawks helping the Tories wield the axe. It is millions of ordinary people including undoubtedly the most vulnerable in our society who will suffer the consequences.
Despite the election having delivered a hung parliament, the prime minister has already announced plans to establish himself in power for a fixed five year term even if he loses a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. A bill to abolish fifty constituencies held by Labour MPs and dispense with the right of appeal for the communities affected has already been published. It is due to be debated on the first day the House sits when it reassembles in September. The bill contains exceptions to save seats held by Liberal Democrats which would be abolished if the numbers criteria it applies to Labour held seats were to be applied to them. Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission admits that three and a half million people are missing from the electoral register, no attempt is being made to find them and register them prior to this ‘equalisation’ measure redrawing Britain’s electoral map in a blatantly partisan way.
The Cameron government has announced its intention to abolish the right of trade unions to make political donations above a derisory cap of £50,000 to the Labour party whatever their size or membership. This is a blatant attempt to use the law to destroy the financial base of their main opposition party. Meanwhile, Cameron intends to preserve the capacity of hedge funds and rich tax exiles to fill his own party coffers with untold millions.
Ministers planning the largest public spending cuts in British peacetime history are already hinting that the right to strike will be curtailed even further than it already is. Expect a bill soon.
The self-styled ‘emergency budget’ was the theatrical centrepiece of this lurch into small state conservatism. The chancellor asserted that the budget was both unavoidable and progressive when in reality it was neither. In a finance bill which stretched to a mere eleven clauses, the central measure was a massive and regressive hike in VAT which Cameron had announced that he had no plans to introduce during the general election and the Liberal Democrats had actively campaigned against. Changes which would have begun to deal with the deeply regressive pension tax relief benefits currently granted to the super rich were quietly dropped by the Tories in a little commented on but very regressive move.
Meanwhile, people have begun to be softened up for the huge public spending cuts to come. While local authorities plan for 25 to 30 per cent budget cuts, the government has opened up another front in the propaganda war. The technique they use is chilling. Carefully chosen and unrepresentative examples of excess in public expenditure are leaked to sympathetic tabloids who share their small state agenda. They are highlighted in screaming headlines to make the case for more cuts.
The government have even taken to spending public money to set up their own special websites which coarsen the ‘debate’ still further. They publish a stream of ignorant vitriol whipped up by this sensationalist reporting and by doing so give it a government seal of approval. The ‘Spending Challenge’ website which is hosted on the Treasury web pages recently featured money saving suggestions including that the workhouses should be reopened, benefit claimants be sterilised or forced to abort any pregnancies and immigrants be deported. It was unmediated and the chief secretary was happy to leave it that way when I first pointed it out to him at Treasury questions. Only a letter to the chancellor and a complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission had any effect on the government’s apparent willingness to publish this dangerous and offensive drivel. The long-term effect of the complaint will probably be the abolition of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to save money.
So after a mere two months the political battle lines have been set and the propaganda war has begun. The assault will continue when the chancellor stands up to announce the spending review on 21 October.
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