The Tories don’t just intend to hammer workers and the poor with cuts — they want to make us believe in their austerity programme as well. The Tories and the Tory press have been relentlessly “on message” since the election, pumping out pro-cuts, class-war propaganda. Let’s take a look at some choice bits of doublethink from the Liberal-Tory press:
1. As he announced the budget in the Commons on Tuesday, to boos from Labour MPs, George Osborne screeched above the racket, “The years of debt and overspending have made this unavoidable”.
But the responsibility for the recession and the deficit lies with the banks and high finance — with the economic system that puts the highest levels of the economy under the control of gamblers and profiteers. Now these same profiteers in international finance — having been bailed out at huge public cost in 2008, but still jittery — demand big public spending cuts from all European countries.
2. “This is the necessary budget” is the catch-phrase that Osborne has chosen for this particular assault. It has the same ominous ring to it as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. This budget is not “necessary”— it is political. The Tories have chosen this budget on ideological grounds. The intention is to shrink the state and humiliate and break the trade unions.
Even by the standards of many dyed-in-the-wool capitalists, this is a bad budget economically. Cutting public sector pay and benefits will cut demand for goods and services. Cutting the goods and services that the public sector buys from the private sector will hurt private sector jobs. The Tories have made a political choice to ravage services and attack benefit claimants. Insofar as this budget is “necessary”, it is because the Tories have promised these cuts to international financiers, who will be disappointed and may punish the UK if the cuts fail to materialise.
3. This is a fair budget; the rich will pay more than the poor — bullshit. To quote the Financial Times on Wednesday 23 June, “Higher earners... were breathing a collective sigh of relief today, having been spared major increases to capital gains tax and income tax”.
Rather than raising tax on the rich, the Liberal-Tory Budget has raised the most regressive tax, VAT, to 20%. Corporation tax will remain low, while Child Tax Credit will be frozen for three years, and baby and toddler supplements will be withdrawn, along with Sure Start maternity grants after the first child. Housing benefit will be cut. Cuts to public services will hurt the working-class people who depend upon and staff those services, while the rich will emerge unscathed.
4. Hard choices, difficult decisions — the Tories refer to the austerity measures euphemistically as “difficult decisions”.
There is nothing difficult about it — they are doing exactly what they want to do. The only difficulty will arise if the victims of the cuts resist. The decision to make the cuts is in fact the fulfilment of a decades-long Tory ambition, and it marks an ideological victory for those who champion Victorian attitudes to the poor — a mixture of brutal physical compulsion, systematic criminalisation and saccharine, hypocrite philanthropy.
5. Pensioners are the winners. Pensions have been linked to the Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index; and also to average earnings. The linking of pensions to the CPI is effectively a cut in pensions. The CPI does not rise as fast as the RPI, because it does not take house prices into account. The link to average earnings is good in the long term, as wages tend to rise faster than prices. But in the short term that may not help, as the government has frozen public sector pay and expects private sector wages to fall due to unemployment and the bosses’ offensive.
6. Benefit cheats are the real villains — the attempt to divide the working class up into the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor is especially pernicious. It is an attempt to divide the working class against itself — turning those in work against those out of work; turning those who rely more on benefits, such as the long-term unemployed, the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable, against those who are less reliant on the welfare state; and turning British-born workers against migrant workers.
All workers depend upon the welfare state, collectively, and should fight collectively to defend it. The Tories are attempting to break down the greatest conquest of the workers’ movement of the last century. They want to turn back the clock to a time when poverty was a question of individual morality and responsibility, rather than a question of social responsibility.
Through methods like a humiliating extra medical check for those attempting to claim Disability Living Allowance, the Liberal-Tory government shows that its political starting point is a mistrust of the poor. It is a work-house mentality that seeks to punish the victims of capitalist society. Hand-in-hand with this approach is the return to philanthropy that the Old Etonian millionaires of the Cameron cabinet are trumpeting — the idea that the provision of vital services should be reduced to a hobby for the idle rich.
Intentional benefit fraud is guessed at around £1.1bn a year (Guardian). But £16 billion of means-tested benefits go unclaimed each year! Tax avoidance costs £25 billion a year (TUC, 2009). Accountant Richard Murphy (using TUC data) argues that tax evasion within the UK costs around £70 billion a year — a problem which has been exacerbated by the decision of HM Revenue and Customs to cut 25,000 jobs.
7. The coalition government has a mandate for these cuts. It hasn’t. The Tories would not have won on 6 May if they had spelled out these plans before polling day.