George Osborne is not the strategic political mastermind either he or his legions of friends in the right wing media believe. Few politicians have been booed by an Olympic stadium filled with 80,000 people, but nonetheless, Osborne will be happy with the predictable plaudits from the usual suspects following this week’s budget.
If being the leader of the opposition is the most difficult job in politics, and it is, then responding to a budget from the opposition benches is undoubtedly the hardest gig. Harriet Harman, again, took the fight to the government in her response, but the most important element of her remarks was in Labour’s commitment to act as a ‘grown up’ party – to assess the budget beyond the spin and support measures we favour and oppose those we do not.
Night of the living wage
The budget was front loaded with tricks and poorly thought through wheezes. The living wage is nothing of the sort; the loopholes, exemptions and contradictions are plentiful. As ever, the rich did well from Osborne whilst the poorest did not.
That’s Mao like it
Osborne’s entire routine was designed to rebrand the Tories as a party that it demonstrably is not: a party for the underdog and the growing dispossessed. If Osborne really does fancy himself as a neo-Marxist he ought to understand that this is a glaring example of false consciousness. What he has lent the Tories is an undeniably Maoist bent.
Through tax codes introduced by Osborne, her majesty’s government now has an official position on the type of relationship it supports, and the official number of children any family should have and expect support for from the state. Shape it how you like – that is weirdly prescriptive and authoritarian.
Play the effects of this forward. How does an ageing society, in which the tax code now incentivises fewer children to be born, continue to receive the tax revenues that currently fund the welfare state? Answer: it does not. Consequence: increased immigration to support the status quo at best, if not, a fundamentally reduced welfare state.
This is Osborne’s real agenda. The headline ambitions are well understood by the public, but the implications are barely understood.
One such consequence of Osborne’s programme is the rapid development a low skilled, low paid economy. Bad for individuals, bad for families, for community and society as a whole. Explaining the realities of this approach is one of Labours’s key tasks on the long road back to power. Our remedy must be the creation of an economy based upon a high skilled, well paid workforce and, with this, the creation of prosperous, strong, resilient and innovative communities right across the United Kingdom.
After poring over this budget we must respond in a way that does not waste our defeat. The state has to be smaller and there is less money to spend – the left can facilitate this and still pursue and achieve progressive policies. The role and purpose of the state is characterized not by its size, but by what it does and on whose behalf it acts.
In addition, Labour should propose a flying start on reshaping the state based upon this fundamental question: cui bono? (or, to whose benefit?)
Labour must choose the cuts that will best support the pursuit of a progressive agenda in government. We can innovate our way to a smarter state. For instance, at least two government departments should disappear (the names of these departments are in a sealed envelope) and real devolution in England should be pursued at brake neck speed.
Osborne dare not do this; he has no desire to take on the machine he hopes to inherit.
And one more thing …
Everything George Osborne proposes is predictable but the reason that we have historically fallen into his elephant traps is because our response to his approach has always been predictable, cumbersome and painful. Osborne clearly understands the Labour thought process and the party’s routine default setting.
We must demonstrate that we understand his – the speed of our recovery and the future of the people whom we exist to serve depends upon it.
Photo: BBC, Thomas Fisher Rare Book, Columbo
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