I HAVEN’T BLOGGED for a while – the never-ending job search taking priority over everything else.
But yesterday’s speech from our esteemed Chancellor was just too much for me to pass up.
I’m not saying he’s an idiot – though he is – and nor am I saying he’s deliberately dismantling the state (though that’s also true).
There’s something more insidious than that in his speech. And it’s something which has happened time after time in Tory statements and broadcasts since late 2009 – when they rose from the graves they’d been resting in.
And it’s this: the Tory Party does not argue its stance. What it has done instead for the last three years is to state what the national position IS and say ‘therefore, the following is true/must happen…’
This would be OK, if their starting point wasn’t just something they made up to suit their purposes.
So the following is just one way in which we can ‘turn the tables’ a little. It contains no accusations of lies, just points out where Osborne’s speculum – as later historians will bewilderingly refer to it – fails in logic, and where its foundations are shaky.
So, yeah, blah, blah, blah.
AT THE last election, the Conservative Party used a quote from Albert Einstein to explain the need for a new government.
‘The definition of insanity,’ its candidates said. ‘Is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.’
If this statement was ever true (and some claim the physicist never actually said it), the people of the UK could be forgiven for questioning the mental state of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, after his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Monday.
Mr Osborne has promised that the system of cuts he called for and has dedicated his chancellorship to delivering will continue until 2016 at the earliest.
Since June 2010, Osborne has slashed state employment, decimated public services and cut benefits to those who cannot find work, or are too ill to work.
He told us this was because it was ‘necessary’ – the only way to cut the deficit.
He promised us his cuts would hurt, but that the economy would recover from its damaged state ‘by 2015’.
He packaged the policies as ‘austerity’.
The name itself was an unfortunate choice, as the International Monetary Fund – not a body known for its ‘left-leaning’ views – has since confirmed that the result of all 173 ‘austerity’ packages enacted across the world to date was recession.
And, as in any system in which one ‘tries the same thing over and over again’, the results this time have been the same. Recession.
Mr Osborne’s plan has not decreased the deficit – his one justification for stripping jobs and money from the economy and actually reducing the state’s income over the last two and a half years.
Instead, from April –August this year, the deficit actually increased 22% to £61.3bn, £12.9bn higher than in the same period last year.
Austerity isn’t working. And yet, at the Birmingham ICC, Mr Osborne’s response to the failure of his economic policies to date was… ‘to try the same thing again, and expect different results.’
Mr Osborne has promised to cut £10bn more from welfare spending. He has told us that he will not use taxes – the government’s sole dependable income – to raise money to pay off the deficit. Instead, he plans to rely on cuts.
He says the cuts will come from indexing benefits in line with inflation, cutting housing benefit from the young and cutting benefits for families with several children.
He said: ‘how can we justify the incomes of those out of work rising faster than the incomes of those in work?’
Of course, it is difficult to justify such a thing. But it is Mr Osborne, not those who are out of work, who must take responsibility for the fact that public sector workers are receiving lower than inflation wage settlements – for it is his policy.
It is Mr Osborne who must take responsibility for the fact that the private sector is choosing to cut employees’ wages, or increase them below the rate of inflation – for it is his austerity package which means there is so little money in the UK that private firms fear expenditure will force them to the wall.
So the question is not, ‘how can we justify the incomes of those out of work rising faster than the incomes of those in work?’ It is instead, Mr Osborne, how can you justify an economy in which those who work earn less money every year?
To put it another way, what are you doing to increase wages, to make work a worthwhile and attractive option? If you believe people are not working because they are richer on benefits, why not encourage higher wages, to reduce the attraction of welfare?
He asks: ‘How can we justify giving flats to young people who have never worked, when working people twice their age are still living with their parents because they can’t afford their first home?’
But the cost of houses is not dictated by those who claim housing benefit. It is dictated by those who build houses, and those governments who refuse to take action over ever-increasing house prices and rental costs.
Nor is the housing shortage in this country caused by ‘benefits claimants’ selfishly living in a house. It is caused by factors including land banking by major corporations – a practice the Treasury could combat head-on by introducing empty land taxes – and by a system in which prices have been allowed to increase unchecked, while incomes have been held down at inflation-level or below.
So the question is not ‘how can we justify giving flats to young people…’ It is perhaps more appropriate to ask ‘why can 32 year-olds in full-time employment not earn enough money to afford to move into their own place of residence?’
Mr Osborne asked: ‘How can we justify a system where people in work have to consider the full financial costs of having another child, whilst those who are out of work don’t?’
But everyone in the country receives a state benefit – one from a fund into which everyone in the country paid in in the first place – when they have children.
Or at least they did, until Mr Osborne decided to remove child benefit payments from selected families across the country.
So perhaps the question should be ‘Mr Osborne, why are you making life harder for parents, regardless of whether they are in work?’
Mr Osborne then outlined his vision of Britain.
He said: ‘We modern Conservatives represent all those who aspire.
‘Whether it’s the owner of the corner shop staying open until midnight to support their family.
‘Or the teacher prepared to defy her union and stay late to take the after-school club.
‘Or the commuter who leaves home before the children are up, and comes back long after they have gone to bed, because they want a better life for them.’
Mr Osborne’s view is indeed an inspiring one, as long as one does not ask the following questions:
Why should a shopkeeper have to open a shop from 7am-12am, solely to earn enough money for their family – who they presumably never see – to survive?
Which teacher has been told by ‘her’ union she must not take the ‘after-school club’?
On the latter point, the NUT and NASUWT have, since the end of September, followed a ‘work-to-rule’ but have specifically stated that teachers who have volunteered to take after school clubs should continue to do so.
Why should ‘commuters’ leave home before their children are awake and get home after they are asleep? Why can’t they earn enough money working sensible hours to provide a decent quality of life for their children?
And does Mr Osborne believe that ‘a better life for their children’ will be delivered by a situation in which a parent never sees their children?
Perhaps, if a decent standard of life for working people is what Mr Osborne wants, he could call for ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’?
On energy, Mr Osborne claims the government will ‘open up the newly discovered shale gas reserves beneath our land… so that Britain is not left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic.’
But even setting aside the fact that energy consultancy Redpoint, advisor to the government’s own independent Climate Change Committee, has pointed out that a gas-based energy production system would cost the taxpayer £23bn per year more than we pay at present for the same power – without factoring in inflation – even the foundation of the statement is questionable.
Because the same report, using the government’s own predictions, along with those of the International Energy Agency, states that: ‘These (groups) envisage rising gas prices in the US and the EU over the next two decades, and a significantly higher gas price in the EU than the US, notwithstanding the potential impact of shale gas.’
Finally, Mr Osborne argues that: ‘Western democracies like ours are being out-worked, out-competed and out-smarted by these new economies. The question for countries like Britain is this: are we going to sink or swim? And the truth is some western countries won’t keep up, they won’t make the changes needed to welfare and education and tax, they’ll fall further and further behind … they’ll become poorer and poorer. I am determined that will not be the Britain I leave to my children, or you leave to yours.’
It is a grim study, of a grim future – and to a man of Osborne’s mental capacities, seemingly a foregone conclusion.
But how are ‘new economies’ ‘out-working, out-competing and out-smarting’ Western states?
In the main, it’s because wages are lower, working hours are longer and social services, such as education, health and sick pay are overlooked in the interests of ‘growth above all else’.
But we have walked a different path, and have used the benefits of our wealth to deliver a better life to the people of the UK.
What else is wealth for? Why become a wealthy state if your wealth delivers no benefit?
Why, in short, should we give up the achievements we have already made – the achievements on which we must build – to become like countries which are less developed than our own?
That is Mr Osborne’s plan A. He says there is no Plan B.
First, why accept as Chancellor a man who refuses to take the time to look at alternatives to a failed strategy?
And second, is UK Plan A really a state in which anyone would aspire to live?