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The Tory budget fails to address any of Britain’s economic woes

Chancellor Phillip Hammond

You wouldn’t have known it from Theresa May’s laughs and Chancellor Philip Hammond’s boasts, but the Budget this week failed to address the key issues and underlining problems facing the British economy.

This Tory complacency in terms of economic policies and planning, alongside their ideological commitment to austerity makes a toxic mix that will damage the living standards of the majority of British people. The reality of Tory Britain today is that we have a low productivity, low wage economy and even the jobs that are being created are insecure and often poorly paid. 900,000 workers are now on zero hours contracts, 55 percent of whom are women.

Real hourly wages are 10% lower than before the financial crash meaning Britain is the only major developed country in which economic growth has returned yet workers are worse off.

Millions are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage; with private renters on average pay nearly half their income in rent. 86% of tax and benefit savings to the Treasury have come from women and they have also landed most heavily on disabled people and the poor. In this context, millions of people needed a budget this week that would prioritise protecting the living standards of the majority, yet we saw just what this Government’s priorities actually are.

In terms of tax, on the one hand, Hammond and May used their first budget to take an extra £2 billion in tax on those self-employed who are on low and middle incomes. On the other hand, he was still boasting about the £70 billion worth of bumper tax giveaways at the top announced by George Osborne.

Then there are the public services we all rely on. Hammond and May, like Thatcher before them, clearly feel there is no such thing as society, as tax breaks for the few go alongside public service cuts for the many.

So whilst last week the Institute for Government said there were “clear warning signs” of the damaging impact of the Government’s cuts on schools, prisons, health and social care,”  the Government did remarkably little in terms of spending on our vital public services.

The NHS is perhaps the clearest example of this. There was again no extra funding for the NHS in the budget.

Indeed, whilst the Tories promised to protect NHS funding in their last manifesto, the reality is that we are witnessing the largest financial squeeze in the NHS’s history, meaning that by 2018 NHS spending per head will be falling.

The government is driving through £22 billion in cuts by 2020 meaning that we should expect further winter crises in the NHS in the years ahead.

And the big long-term issues in terms of the chronic under-investment in Britain’s economy – which is a key underlying reason for all the problems listed above – and the Governments approach to Brexit, there was barely anything.

As Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, put it “today the Chancellor missed the opportunity to get Britain match-fit for Brexit by investing in jobs and infrastructure. “

In contrast to this, with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor Labour has articulated a real and coherent economic framework based on investment, representing a credible alternative to austerity. And they are announcing policies that will be popular on the doorstep.

Jeremy Corbyn used his response to the budget to explain how Labour will bring in a £10 per hour real living wage meaning a pay rise for six million people, end the public sector bay cap benefitting five million people, cap energy prices, and bring the railways back into public ownership to keep the cost of living down.

This is all underpinned by both a commitment to opposing the Tories’ “hard Brexit” plan that will jeopardise jobs and growth and a commitment to a massive boost in investment in skills and infrastructure to give the economy the shot in the arm it needs.

The the challenge for us all now is to unite behind this programme and help popularise it, whilst also continuing to expose – and build resistance to – the cuts at both a local and national level through both community campaigns and initiatives such as last week’s NHS demonstration and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity movement.

As John McDonnell put it this week, “A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn, which will herald in the greatest transformation our country has seen since the 1945 Labour government, the Tories know this and it fear it deeply.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher – let’s make it happen.

  • Matt Willgress is the national organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. On March 14 at 7pm at the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House, they will host an event on Labour’s Alternative to the Tory Austerity Budget with John McDonnell MP, Diane Abbott MP, Richard Burgon MP and many others. You can register in advance at https://bit.ly/mcdonnellonthebudget 

21 Comments

  1. Terry McCarthy says:

    I can’t understand why anybody is surprised they make no secret that they follow the doctrines of Neo liberalism/Chicago school. What we need is a detailed analysis with costings of what Labour will do when in office

    1. David Pavett says:

      Yes, if it were true that

      Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor Labour has articulated a real and coherent economic framework based on investment, representing a credible alternative to austerity. And they are announcing policies that will be popular on the doorstep.

      then wouldn’t that be something important enough to put into the hands of every Labour member? Wouldn’t Left Futures be carrying a series of articles to spread the good news? And wouldn’t this article have provided its readers with a link or links to material on this “real and coherent framework”?

  2. John Penney says:

    Terry, you say:

    “In contrast to this, with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor Labour has articulated a real and coherent economic framework based on investment, representing a credible alternative to austerity.”

    This is great news ! … Ah.. But where is this “coherent economic framework” document available, so we can all enjoy it comrade ?

    There is certainly no sign of it in Labour’s laughably superficial current NPF document on the Economy. A few general policy ideas and ambitions from Jeremy during the Leadership contest, and the NPF nonsense is not the same thing at all as a “coherent economic policy ” I’m afraid. Labour currently has NO economic policy any different to that served up by Ed Miliband in 2015.

    1. John Penney says:

      oops, I meant “Matt”, not “Terry”.

      Both David’s, and my, expressed doubts that there is indeed a “coherent framework” for a Labour economic strategy currently available, (or a coherent strategy in any other topic area) ,isn’t just sniping for the sake of it.

      That nearly 18 months after Jeremy’s epochal first Leadership victory, his circle has yet to put a single scintilla of detail policy “meat” on the outline bones of his many aspirational leftish slogans and promises – is disastrous for the entire Left, and a betrayal of this historic once in a lifetime opportunity, which leaves Labour’s “policy bundle” exactly where it was under Ed Miliband. To the delight and satisfaction of the Labour Right and the Party machine.

      I spent Saturday at our Shropshire local elections manifesto Conference , where it was clear the privatising New Labour agenda is still alive and well. We had to sit through a disgraceful presentation by a bod from the Co-operative Party – delighted that ever greater privatisation of education and social care provided huge opportunities for “co-operatives” to snaffle up some of this privatised service provision !

      1. James Martin says:

        Yes, local government is key. We have thousands of Labour councilors and control of large numbers of councils, but why? What are they for? To continue to impose Tory austerity policies and cut front line services? When will that stop? All I ever hear when I make the argument thyat councils should in coordinated way set ‘illegal’ budgets based on actual need is that the councillors would then be removed and replaced with direct rul from Whitehall via local commissionaires. Really? And just how long do people think the removal of local democracy in hundreds of LA’s would last? What sort of fight and huge campaigning united front would result in that? But instead of fighting the Tories we have passivity and waffle.

    2. Danny Nicol says:

      I agree. After one and a half years of Corbyn-McDonnell we should indeed all have a document we can flourish proudly above our heads laying down the framework of a coherent programme. Its absence is particularly painful when one considers that economic policy is actually an area in which the executive branch (putatively Corbyn and McDonnell) have more freedom and leeway vis-a-vis their parliamentary colleagues than other areas of policy.

      We need a dynamic programme to win votes and to inspire people. Instead after waiting all those decades for the Left to lead the Labour Party, they produce, erm, nothing! Arguably Donald J. Trump projects a more dynamic and inspiring programme of public works than our duo. In any event, no coherent economic programme, no coherent anti-austerity stance. You can’t have one without the other.

      1. Imran Khan says:

        The coherent programme or not doesn’t matter. The problem is the two gentlemen you have mentioned.

  3. Bazza says:

    As a bit of a sociologist I often listen to conversations in pubs.
    Last night I heard a classic, “I wouldn’t vote for Corbyn, he looks like a geography teacher.” (!)
    We on the Left need to get people to focus on our IDEAS rather than the media’s focus on personalities.
    Perhaps we need to follow what Tony Benn did, bypass the media and have a host of community meetings/consultations and Benn won in Chesterfield.

    1. Danny Nicol says:

      On a lighter note, when David Cameron accused Jeremy of being “terrorist-sympathising [and] Britain-hating”, comedian Frankie Boyle rallied to the latter’s defence arguing that “he’s called Jeremy and dresses like a geography teacher – he couldn’t be more British if he bled tea”.

    2. Imran Khan says:

      ” Conversations in pubs”. Worth a million manifestos.

  4. Bazza says:

    Just to remind readers, May the Born Again Brexiteer, who in theory was for Remain has just sanctioned governmental departmental budget cuts to international trade and industrial strategy over the next few years from £2b to £1.7b (BBC News Website, 9/3/17).
    Massive Brexit Own goal!
    Labour should highlight this.

  5. Bazza says:

    Footnote, some argue we may be going back to the 1930’s with right wing forces Trump et al but perhaps we should be arguing with JC its back to 1945 plus but this time with a real transformation.
    Solidarity.

  6. James Martin says:

    You know I increasingly feel that I’m a member of a different party to people like Matt Willgrass, or perhaps they are talking about a Labour Party in another country? Either way, and as has been pointed out by others, when I see written the words “Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor Labour has articulated a real and coherent economic framework based on investment” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And don’t even get me started on calls to natioanialise the railways while promoting the liberal nonsense of a ‘soft’ (i.e. no) Brexit that would prevent this ever happening.

  7. Peter Rowlands says:

    Most comments should have acknowledged that there is the brief outline of some commitments, contained in the first of Corbyn’s ‘Ten pledges’ and in speeches by him and McDonnell (£5 billion investment in infrastructure, manufacturing and new industries, high speed broadband, energy, transport and homes, through a National Investment Bank and regional banks, promoting decent jobs and new co-operatives. (My summary). This indicates a commitment to a left Keynesian policy, which is what is required, and there is, I think, an assumption, perhaps by the article’s author, that behind the ‘ten pledges’ and speeches there are some weighty documents setting out in detail what Labour’s policies are.Unfortunately there aren’t, or they are being kept well hidden! Commitments are not policies, and these are what are now required.

    1. John Walsh says:

      Re “they are being kept well hidden” – over on Labourlist there a ‘comment’ piece today which is the speech John McDonnell delivered at Labour’s economic conference in Glasgow yesterday. He begins: “It’s been great to see the enthusiasm across the country for these conferences …”.

      Did anyone commenting on here attend any of these conferences?, and how did you hear about them?

      On Labour’s website, a page about The New Economics details upcoming and past events, with the following intro …

      “John McDonnell is convening a series of public events to broaden the debate around economics in Britain. A range of experts will present their views at a number of events across the country, with questions from members of the public.”

      So, things are happening – it’s perhaps just that the ‘drinks party in a brewery’ organisational capability is keeping them secret (maybe Facebook is where these things are publicised?).

      1. John Penney says:

        We all remember the Bourgeois Celebrity Economists Roadshow run by McDonnell in 2016. A total waste of time , with these “experts” mostly stabbing Jeremy and John in the back at the first opportunity !

        The fact that none of us know anything about this ” series of public events ” strongly suggests that yet again these are for more Left posturing PR , not serious Left policy formulation.

      2. David Pavett says:

        I tried to give some publicity to John McDonnell’s economic road show a year ago. I thought it was a good initiative and wanted to encourage participation. Labour made minimal publicity effort before the events and did little with the material generated afterwards. I wrote to McDonnell proposing a book collecting the presentations given. I got the usual answer from Labour leaders: no reply. Given the lack of any substantial materials

    2. David Pavett says:

      Peter, Not sure I take your point about the failure to acknowledging the “brief outline of some commitments”. Neither I nor John P denied that. Rather we point to that as the problem: that is all there is. As you say “commitments are policies”. That was our point. Slogans and brief outlines of commitments are worthless if not backed up by substantial analyses and detailed policies. It is clear that this is your view too.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        I don’t think there is any difference between you John, myself and others in stressing the urgent necessity of a comprehensive policy document in this and other areas, but I thought it fair to say that the the outline of what we need is there , it is now a question of filling it in.

  8. Robin Edwards says:

    This Tory budget addressed the economic woe that has plagued Britain since 2008. How to make the poor, sick, disabled, young, old, unemployed and increasingly the working and middle classes pay for the bail out of the super rich and corporate creditors of the bankrupt banks. How to keep the wealth gushing up without completely destroying all economic activity. How to asset strip and liquidate centuries of accumulated wealth without triggering a revolution. How to continue to enjoy all the perks of being a member of the ruling elite without a functioning or reproducable economic system to underpin your position. How to make death look like life.

  9. Bazza says:

    I reckon I could write 12 policy actions for each of JCs policy statements in what 5 hours.
    Yet to defend JC and JM they have kind of been under attack from the Right in Labour for 18 months but they have a full time team around them – seize the moment!
    I could do it in 5 hours yet the NPF has had a small group and what after 7 months nothing, or nothing of significance.
    I always remember how a right wing in a Labour CLP killed a thriving (left wing) young socialist branch, they just got one of theirs as youth officer who did absolutely nothing and it just faded away.
    I saw a brilliant letter in the Guardian recently from a doctor who said Labour has a socialist leader and the right wing media will always attack him and best to bypass the media and to go directly to the community.
    Similar to my point, build 12 policy actions per JC statement then take these out via CLP community conferences by topic and bypass the media so we share our ideas with the community to be discussed so once again to quote Dante from The Divine Comedy (with JC as leader) “Follow me, and let the people talk.”
    And here’s something every genuine socialist on here can do, why not fill in the blanks yourself?
    I got a resolution an a comprehensive housing policy through my branch and each of you pick a statement and propose a resolution which covers your dozen or so action points and pass it up the chain; perhaps we need to take the power from below or otherwise we become socialists who are always waiting for other socialists to do something.
    Socialists liberate thy self!

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