At the start of this academic year, I bought myself a clock radio, so I could wake up to the radio rather than whatever annoying noise my phone conjures up. Now, in Brighton I can’t get Absolute Radio. I personally cannot stand Chris Evans. So with Absolute and Radio 2 ruled out, I plumped for Radio 4. I quite like the Today programme, and John Humphrys’ voice isn’t an unpleasant thing to wake up to. (Quiet!)
This might seem an odd way to begin a blog entry, but it leads into something more substantial now. This morning I was half awake, listening to a bit about how dire Ireland’s economic state is at the moment, and how it looks like the EU is going to have to bail them out.
Now, I might have missed a bit, as I was still waking up, but nowhere did I hear any parallels drawn between the Irish situation and our own. They suffered in the recession. So did we. They gained a large deficit as a result of bailing themselves out of the recession. So did we. They ended up with a Coalition. So did we. They set out on a program of radical cuts. We have just begun a near identical program.
And here’s the problem. Before the election, back when he was Shadow Chancellor, rather than axe-wielder-in-chief, George Osborne wrote an article in the Times newspaper about Ireland. You can read the article for yourself, but it contains the key quote.
I’m not an Osborne fan. I think he’s a moron, and I wouldn’t trust him with my pocket change, let alone the Treasury. But still, I’d have a lot more respect for him if he could let go of his damned cutcutcut obsession and looked at the bloody facts. It’s particularly galling when he himself laid out the sensible advice back in 2006.
“[Ireland] have much to teach us, if only we are willing to learn.”
And right you were, George. They taught us that sudden, drastic cuts when the economy is still unstable are a bad idea, and can result in a plunge back into recession. Not the lesson that he imagined they would teach us, granted, but important nonetheless. And yet despite eschewing the benefits of paying attention to Ireland and learning from their blunders, he seems not to be willing to learn himself.
It’s not surprising, of course. The Coalition government have set out on a program of economically-destructive cuts, and damn it they’re going to carry it out. That’s ideology. That’s politics. Any climbdown now would be tantamount to the lumbering mutant creature shooting itself in the face. But why are the rest of us not shouting louder about this?
Alan Johnson pointed out Osborne’s raging hypocrisy re: banking regulation, back when the CSR was delivered. But no one is waving Ireland around as an example of him ignoring the red lights and warning signs. Is there some reason for this? Is Ireland a no-go area for some reason?
Whatever, some brave MP (from either side of the House) needs to table a question to ask Osborne- or that Tory-apologist Danny Alexander- to explain why they are now ignoring the Irish lessons which they were so adamant we should learn from.
So, it’s happened. Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Right Honourable George Osborne (MP for Tatton), has stood at the dispatch box, and delivered his “emergency budget”. And despite some speculation in the press, pretty much everything that was feared has come to pass.
Now, I know there are a lot of blogs on the budget already going up on the internet, and I’m going to endeavour to make sure this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to the proposals. It won’t be a politically neutral one (anyone who knows me, will know that political neutrality is not one of my strong suits), but it won’t be indiscriminately critical. Because it isn’t entirely bad. There were gestures made, concessions given.
The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is a good thing. The banks taxis a good thing. The declaration that we won’t join the Euro is a good thing (though puzzlingly unnecessary, since I don’t think anyone was seriously proposing joining). But what was given with one hand, has been taken away with the other. The Child Tax Credit expansion is countermanded by the child benefit freeze. The banks tax was countered by the cut in corporation tax which they will enjoy. And as I’ve already said, the Euro declaration was fairly meaningless on a grander scale.
But the worst part is the VAT hike. David Cameron has been widely quoted today and in the previous few days, and I think I’ll jump on that particular bandwagon right now: “[VAT is] very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you.” He was right. It does, and it will. The 2.5% rise will raise further revenue to cut the deficit, but at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society. A fair trade? Apparently it is, if you’re a Tory.
Or a Lib Dem, for that matter. Throughout the delivery of his budget, Osborne was flanked by Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, his Liberal Democrat scapegoats, and as Alistair Campbell said, they looked like nodding dogs- even despite looking slightly sick at the VAT announcement. The fact is, that this is their budget. They have supported it, and allowed it to happen, despite the fact that they specifically campaigned against a Tory VAT hike. How short the yellow memory is.
The fact is, that cuts are necessary. The deficit does need to be cut down. There is a reason that we have it, and that reason is that we spent ourselves into debt to get ourselves out of recession. But that sacrifice will be rendered meaningless if overzealous cutting takes us right back into economic decline. Cuts must be counterbalanced with the growth of the economy, today downgraded from previous estimates in the wake of this new budget. Cuts will increase unemployment, which will lower tax income, and thus make the whole damn mess a whole lot worse.
The real travesty of this budget to me, is that it was lauded as a “fair” budget. Everyone would share the pain. We were all in this together. It was awfully hard to take all of that seriously, when the budget was delivered by a government front bench crammed with millionaires, whom these new austerity measures won’t scratch. I will bear the burden of these measures, when I can’t find a job after university. Poor families will bear the burden of these measures, with less of the vital benefits they need, whilst being forced to pay more for everything due to the VAT hike. George Osborne has taken a 5% pay cut, that amounts to his pocket change. That is not fair, and that is not evenly shared pain.
But hey, cider duty has been cut, so everyone can get drunk to celebrate not being able to afford anything else any more.
(The full text of the budget is available on the HM Treasury Website)