The figures in Philip Hammond’s first autumn statement yesterday confirmed that the dire economic outlook and the pinch most are feeling in the run up to Christmas is well and truly on the Conservatives. This economic mess is theirs and theirs alone.
The figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts show that Britain is likely to borrow an extra £122bn more than was estimated in the March budget and that debt as a percentage of GDP will surpass 90 per cent in 2017/18. This should put to bed once and for all the myth that the Tories are playing the part of the responsible parents tidying up after 13 years of Labour economic mismanagement.
Up until now, this myth has served them well. For the last six years Tory ministers have had it easy whenever posed with a difficult question. Cannot quite remember the justification for the latest round of cuts? Easy, it was unavoidable due to ‘the mess we inherited from the last Labour government.’ Or perhaps the budget is showing an increase in borrowing to pay off the growing national debt? There was an easy answer for that too, ‘In 2010 we didn’t know the scale of the mess we had inherited from the last Labour government, but it is far worse than we expected.’
These were the lines we heard repeated consistently, be it at the despatch box or on Question Time. That ‘mess’ is largely what won them the last two general elections. After yesterday’s autumn statement its days should be numbered. Six years and a Brexit vote later, the Tories can no longer say they did not fully grasp the scale of the structural problems of our economy. Given that a year ago George Osborne was boasting about ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining’, perhaps they never really got it at all.
The mess is now theirs and it is Labour’s job to make sure they have to take full ownership and full responsibility for it. Not only have they had six years to bring the national debt down but the OBR have confirmed that the cost of Brexit is going to be a significant factor in the nation’s financial difficulties, a factor to the sum of £58.7bn.
When the cost of Brexit really starts to bite we cannot let the Tories forget that it is they who brought us the referendum, their senior ministers who rubbished the economic warnings, and their cabinet that is going to preside over national debt rising to 90.2 per cent of GDP. The extra public spending cuts that are heading our way are because of the economic decisions they made from 2010 and their decision to lead the UK out of the European Union to the tune of £226m a week. So much for an extra £350m a week on the National Health Service.
The chancellor’s announcements that the minimum wage will rise and upfront letting agents fees will be scrapped are of course welcome, but they are merely tinkering around the edges of the vast problems facing our economy.
Borrowing and inflation going up, growth and productivity going down. That is the story of the last six years of Conservative economic mess.
Grace Skelton is a former national secretary of Labour Students. She tweets at @graceskelton
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