Say no to the politics of austerity

1 05 2009

Conservative leader David Cameron at a party conference, after delivering his 'age of austerity' speech

David Cameron has now formally identified his party as the party of austerity. He went even further in his speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference by claiming that we are now in an ‘age of austerity’. He has identified four things that an incoming Tory government would do:

First, a return to traditional public spending control. Second, a new culture of thrift in government. Third, curing our big social problems, not just treating them. And fourth, imagination and innovation as we harness the opportunities of technology to transform the way public services are delivered.

Open season has been called on public spending. Politicians and media commentators have begun a feeding frenzy about which bits of the public services need to be cut first. There are calls for public sector pay cuts, ending public sector pensions, cancelling Trident and so on. 

But there are two things to consider here. Firstly, why are we suddenly in an ‘age of austerity’? We are in a recession, no doubt. But recessions come to an end. Why are we not in ‘age of economic opportunity’ or ‘potential economic growth’. After all, technology and science are taking us into new and ever more productive ways of making things and communicating ideas. The instinct of our political leaders to don the hair shirt at the first opportunity shows their own lack of confidence in creating a positive vision for our society.

Secondly, we need to take a step back and consider what we really want the state to do and what it would best be left out of before launching into a ‘cut this, cut that ‘ debate based on the prejudices of whichever commentator we are listening to.  Politicians are left floundering at present because they have got used to delivering policies based on focus groups rather than on any politicial vision for our society.  In a crisis such as the one we face leadership is necessary to lift people out of a narrow focus on the here and now.  The instinct of Cameron and others is to race for the lowest common denominator, hence the ‘age of austerity’. 

There is no doubt that a review of public spending priorities would be a good thing, there are some state activities which we could well do without. Take the new Independent Safeguarding Authority which at the cost of £84 million will  safety check 11 million adults who have contact with children thus exacerbating mistrust between adults and children even more than is the case now.

The question of the role of the state is one of the key issues we will be debating at the May 16 Battle for the Economy Conference.

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18 05 2010
Why should anybody oppose public spending cuts, and how? « UK After The Recession

[…] way it is quite a plausible scenario. So how should we think about what will be in effect an austerity budget that George Osborne , the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be producing in  a few weeks […]

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