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Battle-lines for 2015: Tory permanent austerity v Labour decent affordable society

cameron at the lord mayorsCameron, surprisingly, has really let the cat out of the bag. In his speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet (complete with champagne, roast duck and assorted fruit meringues) he let slip to his audience that the Tories would not restore public expenditure after the structural deficit had been eliminated, but would maintain austerity indefinitely (though not of course for the worshipful dignitaries enrobed before him who’ve had a good austerity).

In 2010 he said “I didn’t come into politics to make cuts”. Now he is addicted to them. Just as the Tories aim for a permanent low-wage economy, they now strive for a permanent low-cost state so that only will the cuts not be restored, but they will be taken further even when the budget is in surplus.

That creates a huge contrast with declared Labour aspirations – a Living Wage for all, constraints on soaring prices to make real wages go further, taxing the rich to provide jobs for the young unemployed, ending savage reprisals on the victims of the bedroom tax and the Atos disabled, and a big increase in social housing to deal with a drastic housing shortage. But though the choice for 2015 now looks blatantly stark, Labour still needs a much more robust approach to counter Tory aggression – not least because the more timid and defensive Labour is, the more the Tory bully rampages on.

We now know what the real Tory goal is – a minimalist state, permanent high unemployment, casualised labour for working people (zero hours contracts booming across the economy), all public services marketised, a society of benefit sanctioning and food banks, and endlessly expanding inequality (the rise of absolute poverty at one end and unimaginable wealth at the other).

Labour now needs to be equally determined and forthright. Not just a significant freeze on gas and electricity prices, but also on rents and other utility bills like water. Not just aiming to curb market abuse by regulation, but ready to bring public ownership to bear as the best way where necessary to tackle dysfunctional markets like the Big Six energy market, the banking disaster, the housing collapse, the railways rip-off, the pensions scandal, the marketising of health and education, and the virtual abolition of the legal access to justice. That would be extremely popular, and the mood of the country is ready for it.

One more thing Labour must really do, and that is bury with the facts once and for all the canard that Labour left behind an ‘economic mess’ as Cameron and Osborne and the lesser mini-tories constantly assert. The facts are irrefutable: the budget deficit was 2.6% of GDP in 2007-8 just before the banking crash and only rose to 11.0% in 2009-10 because the bankers’ bailout. It then fell to 9.3% in 1010-11 because of Alistair Darling’s reflationary 2010 budget, but since then has been stuck at around 7.5% for the past 3 years because of Osborne’s austerity. Labour should be saying this over and over again till the truth gets home to people.

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