George Osborne is not the problem

George Osborne is a man whose one and only idea has failed him — but if the Conservative Party think their problem begins and ends with him then they are sorely mistaken.

It must be tough for George Osborne to decide which of his recent run of bad days has been the worst — but today must rank pretty highly on that list. The announcement by the ONS that the economy has shrunk by an estimated 0.7% shocked and alarmed many, but few more than the Chancellor.

Predictably the shout has gone up for Osborne’s head on a spike. Not just from his adversaries on the left, but also from many of his former cheerleaders on the right. Big names on the Tory side are calling for Cameron to shuffle Osborne out of the Treasury, and replace him with someone else. William Hague is the one I’ve heard most, in the last week or so.

This would, in my opinion, be both a mistake and a misjudging of the problem.

Yes, the economy has nose-dived since he got his hands on it. And yes, his most recent budget was a public relations disaster. But that is a symptom of the real problem, and it’s a problem that Chancellor Hague would have to face up to as well.

Namely, that austerity isn’t working.

Like the Titanic, we were sold this idea as unsinkable, and like the Titanic it’s currently slipping beneath the icy waters of oblivion, with the rich taking all the lifeboats and filling them with tax cuts and obscene bonuses. But whilst Osborne has been the face of this ideology, and the chief axe wielder, he and it are not one and the same. Austerity was the defining policy of the Conservative Party at the last election, and in a desperate gambit to win (which, it might be remembered, he didn’t) Cameron lashed his own and his party’s credibilty to it.

So austerity isn’t working. It has taken the wind out of the economy’s sales, and destroyed the recovery that was in process when the coalition took over. The promised expansion of the private sector hasn’t happened, and we are now enduring the worst double-dip recession since the Second World War.

In order to turn this situation around, the government need to abandon their “cut at all costs” approach, and start taking serious action to stimulate growth, create jobs, and get the economy moving again. But Cameron can’t do that, because it means admitting that he was wrong, and that the entire basis on which he built his economic credibility has bee a fallacy. He won’t do that because he doesn’t have the courage to face the electoral consequences.

So George Osborne is not the problem with economic policy in the UK. He isn’t helping it, and his fingerprints are all over it, but the problem is deeper than one man. And if the Conservative Party forces him out of Number 11 Downing Street, then they’ll feel a bit better for a while. But in three months time, the figures will still be awful, the recovery still won’t have arrived, and the Titanic will still be sinking.

Messrs Cameron and Osborne, purveyors of endless austerity

David Cameron and George Osborne, snake oil salesmen with only more failed austerity to sell.

Do you recall when, according to the Conservatives, austerity would be over by 2014, in time for a glorious year of tax giveaways leading up to the election? Then when it — predictably — didn’t all go to plan, we were told that we’d have to keep cutting until 2017.

Now David Cameron has said that we’re stuck with it until 2020. In fact, that’s  not all he’s said:

I can’t see any time soon when the pressure will be off…I don’t see a time when difficult spending choices are going to go away. We are in a very difficult situation.

So there you go, folks. This economic misery we’ve been slogging through for the last few years? Here to stay. Despite the fact that we were sold this as a quick, sharp fix, it’s looking like a permanent regime as far as the right is concerned.

Now, there’s going to be different views on this. Some will think that it’s a deliberate conspiracy, to further a “small state” agenda on the part of Cameron and his political “strategist” George Osborne. They’ll cite, not unconvincingly, the bonfire of regulation that the Coalition seems to be engaged in, despite the fact that lax regulation was exactly the thing that caused this mess. They’ll cite the tax cuts dolled out to millionaires, even as we’re told that there is no money, and the poor and vulnerable are made to bear the price.

As tempting as this stance is, I don’t buy it myself. I’m sure that some in his party follow this line of thinking, but I don’t think Cameron is nearly ideological enough to think like that. Rather, I think that he’s just clueless.

Cameron only did as well as he did in the 2010 general election by making spurious economic arguments. That we were in the same position as Greece (we weren’t). That government debt was like maxing out a credit card (it isn’t). That Gordon Brown was singularly responsible for a global economic crisis, which I don’t think even brooks a response.

But the real nub is austerity. The promise that cutting and cutting hard would solve all our ills was like the proverbial snake oil salesman. We are at present back in recession. Cameron and Osborne have managed to turn a growing economy back into a shrinking one, through a failed economic strategy. So much money has been taken out of the economy that the private sector cannot make up the difference, and the result is crash.

The utter shambles that was this year’s budget is a symptom of that. As is the shambolic situation of the government in general. They’re out of ideas. The only one they had has failed, and they have staked so much to it that in claiming that we our situation is “like Greece”, they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy — if they stop cutting and start focusing on growth, the markets will panic.

This is all we are going to see from the Conservatives for a long time now. They know that this isn’t working, but in order to fix the problem they would have to admit they were wrong on the central issue that they’ve staked their political reputation on. They don’t have the courage to launch the mass investment that is needed to get the economy growing, so what will they do?

Keep selling us more austerity, and pray that we don’t notice the harm that it’s doing.

Falling on Your Sword

"You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords." (Serenity, 2005)

Joss Whedon’s Serenity is one of my favourite films. It’s fun, exciting and smart. In it, there’s a certain scene where the bad guy confronts the director of a facility from which a “patient” has escaped, and delivers this telling little line:

You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.

It’s that line that occurs to me today, as political disaster after disaster explodes, rocking the ship of government to the point of capsizing. Politicians desperately scramble for excuses, for any scapegoat that will save their skins from the situations they have put themselves in.

Look to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt was well and truly “dropped in it” yesterday by James Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Hunt, it seems, was leaking information to News International and helping get their bid to take over Sky approved- a bid that he was adjudicating on.

What is Hunt’s response? He’s forced out his special advisor, trying to create a scapegoat despite the fact that the ministerial code clearly says that it is Hunt himself who bears responsibility.

Another example: today saw the announcement of the growth figures for the first quarter of 2012. They were terrible. So terrible, in fact, that we are now technically back in recession. This is a double dip that George Osborne assured us all that we would not suffer, and that anyone saying we would was wrong and profoundly irresponsible.

What was Osborne’s response? A lot of fluff about how it’s down to the Eurozone. When Labour left office the economy was recovering. Conservative economic policy started to turn that recovery into another downturn before the impact of the Eurozone could reasonably be blamed.

Both men have failed in their duties. Both have tried to deflect blame and responsibilty to save themselves and their positions. The scrabbling around to look for excuses is utterly undignified.

I’m not saying that previous administrations have been innocent of this same political grubbery, because they haven’t. It’s not just down to these particular individuals, but rather a malaise that has infected our political sphere as a whole, from top to bottom.

Look, for example, more locally to Wokingham. In the light of the disastrous new rubbish scheme the Conservative administration: firstly went into hiding; secondly came out fighting trying to smear anyone who criticised them; thirdly blamed anyone else they could think of.

There is a slimy, selfish inability to take responsibility in a dignified and honourable way that has taken hold. The present government seems, in every aspect, to embody this. From Theresa May’s spurious claims about cats, to Jeremy Hunt’s shadowy connections to News International, to the shattering mismanagement of the economy at George Osborne’s hands. If someone of import at least displayed a willingness to fall on their sword in penance for their failures, then there might at least be some confidence in the political system.

Return of the Nasty Party

Lord Young: showing us that beneath the mask of so-called "compassionate conservatism", the nasty party is alive and well.

Since he became Tory leader, David Cameron has been insistent that the Conservatives aren’t the same “nasty party” that were decisively voted out of power in 1997. Since he took power, he’s maintained the facade of compassionate Conservatism, even as he and his government have been instigating cuts which target the poorest sectors of society. Now, hardly any of us were fooled, but they went to great pains to keep it up. Until today, when the mask slipped off completely for a telling moment.

Lord Young’s comments in the Daily Telegraph have been front page news, so most people probably already know what he said, but for those who don’t here is the key part:

“For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started…”

He was referring to low interest rates, and arguing that they had benefited those with mortgages. This is, of course, completely ignoring the vast numbers who lost their jobs in the recession, and whose homes were repossessed, not to mention those millions who will suffer greatly as a result of his government’s cuts.

Lord Young has resigned over his comments, but the damage is already done really. It shows the attitude of a Conservative party, and a coalition government, that frankly doesn’t care about the people who it is going to be hurting. All that nonsense about all in it together is clearly rubbish. For the frontbench of millionaires in the cabinet, life is as good as ever, so who cares about the rest, right?

Cameron was fairly quick to denounce Young’s comments, and the enterprise advisor has spent much of the morning cap in hand, apologetic, and looking thoroughly ashamed of himself as the Tory PR chiefs clearly instructed him to. But given the seriousness of this gaffe, and especially considering how emphatically Cameron distanced himself from the comments, why did it take Young until the afternoon to resign?

Cameron clearly wanted him to stay on, despite the offensiveness of his views, and wasn’t going to sack a leading Tory peer. Young only resigned because of overwhelming pressure brought upon him by the media, the opposition parties, and the people of this country. When Cameron heard of the comments, he should have immediately sacked Young. The fact that he did not seems to speak volumes about his own views on the matter, and consequently of his party’s views.

The catchphrase “all in this together” has been ringing hollow since the government first started spouting it, but now it seems like the cat is out of the bag. The Tories haven’t changed a bit. They’re a political group out for themselves, and their only guiding principle is self-interest. Never mind “all in this together”; as we always knew it was, the true Tory catchphrase seems to be “we’re set; screw the rest of you”.

The Elephant in the Room

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.

I wanted to use a picture of an elephant painted with the Irish flag, on fire, but unfortunately my lack of photoshop skills and the internet's lack of imagination has meant that I can only go with this particularly idiotic picture of Osborne.

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.

I’m Backing Balls

Ed Balls is the man with the passion, oratory skill, and technical understanding to best stand up to the unfair Con-Dem coalition, and make Labour values and principles effective in opposition

So here it is. On 1st September 2010, the ballots will start to go out to Party members for the voting stage of the Leadership contest. And in anticipation of this, I’m declaring my support, and my first preference vote for Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.

When the candidates were announced, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Ed to be my first choice. I didn’t know all that much about him then, he was a figure in the Labour cabinet, Minister for Education, and that was about all I knew.

Since the election, however, he has proved himself to me as a gifted politician, and a man dedicated to the ideals of social justice upon which Labour is founded. After fighting tooth and nail in the General Election almost five months ago to win a difficult seat, and after choosing to fight for the leadership, he has thrown himself into opposition.

Ed understands the dangers of the coalition policies. He understands the terrible risks that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are taking with the economy, placing an unfair burden on the very poorest in society. He recognises the need not to simply focus on his leadership campaign, but that the the fight back has to begin immediately.

In the five short months since the Coalition entered government, Ed has fought them on all the important issues. He has embarrassed and exposed the elitist hypocrisy of the Coalition education policies. On BBC Question Time, he outshone Business Secretary Vince Cable. And he has come out swinging against the cuts that risk our fragile economic recovery. He has put the fear of Labour and of the people into the Coalition front bench already- imagine what he could do as party leader.

This leadership election is massively important, and I would not presume to tell anyone how to vote. All members of the party should take equal responsibility, and take the time to research the candidates to make their own judgements on who is best. We are in a fortunate position, in that all of the candidates are fine politicians, who would bring their own advantages to the party. This puts the party members in an unenviable position of trying to decide which of them is best.

As I’ve already said, I think that is Ed Balls. He has the fire in his belly to fight for the people of this country, who now more than ever need Labour to be standing up for them. He has the economic understanding to be able to outmatch the Coalition’s atrocious ideological mishandling of the economy. I’d highly recommend to anyone considering how to cast their vote, that they read his “There is an Alternative” speech from earlier today. Ed knows what he’s talking about, and is ready to stand up for what is right.

If you’re not yet a Labour Party member, but care about this country and the future we face, then you can still join and cast a vote in the Leadership election, up to September 8th. I urge you to consider this. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be overstated, particularly given the contradictory alliance of Tory and Lib Dem that is currently doling out injustices and irresponsibilities. That strength starts with a strong leader.

If you’re interested in joining the party, then take a look at the Labour Homepage. If I’ve caught your interest in regards to Ed Balls, then please take a look at his campaign page, and see first hand what I’m talking about.