Friday, 10 September 2010

The cuts won’t hurt? Go tell that to the battered North East Mr Clegg.

Just now political autobiographies are all the rage, Tony Blair’s rather turgid tome ‘A Journey’ has raced to the top of the best seller list and provoked at least one riot. If Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg decides to cash in on the trend he might be advised to call his own book ‘Why do I say these things?’

At least he would on the strength of the comments he made this week about the likely impact of the coming budget cuts. He told the BBC that he ‘understood people’s anxieties’ about the prospect of spending cuts of 25% and admitted that ‘tough decisions’ would have to be made, but said that talk of billions of pounds being taken out of the economy overnight were misleading and only added to people’s fears.

The spending review would, he said, be ‘tough’, but was an essential part of a five year plan ‘to put the UK back in the black.’ To which the only response is go tell it to the marines Mr Clegg; better still go tell it to the people living in towns in the North East that are about to be dealt a knockout by the coming cuts.

Research carried out by Experian for the BBC this week revealed that towns in the North East are likely to be least resilient when it comes to coping with the budget cuts, hardest hit will be Middlesbrough, Mansfield and Stoke-on-Trent.

Nick Clegg admitted, big of him don’t you think?, that the research shows there really is such a thing as a north south divide in England, but retreats from the idea that the policies followed by the government of which he is part may well exacerbate existing problems by recycling cheerless bromides about not being able to build a strong economy on ‘shifting sands of debt.’

While it is self evident that public spending will have to contract the speed with which the current government is swinging the axe risks doing more harm that good. As Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough puts it people in his constituency who lose their jobs in the public sector won’t necessarily go into jobs in the private sector; they’ll go on the dole!

You also have to agree with shadow business secretary Pat McFadden when he accuses the government of gambling with ‘growth and jobs.’ The trouble is ‘nice guy Nick’ fails to see the extent of the fear felt by people in areas that have been reeling from one economic blow after another since the 1970’s, in most cases they aren’t living high on the public service hog, they’re just about getting by and lose sleep over the prospect of losing their jobs and homes.

The pact the public entered into, probably unconsciously, by voting for a coalition government in May was based on an understanding that the traditionally Tory imperative to balance the national books would be tempered by a liberal understanding that it must be done with compassion and common sense. Nick Clegg and his fellow Liberal Democrats have failed to come through on that promise; to all our cost.

If you need evidence of this look no further than their willingness to countenance Chancellor George Osborne’s planned cut of £4billion from the welfare budget. This has nothing to do with getting people off welfare and into work, as his colleague Iain Duncan Smith awkwardly pointed out ending poverty requires welfare spending to rise in the short term, and everything to do with playing to the more unthinking elements of the Tory grassroots ahead of the party conference.

The new politics Nick Clegg, Vince Cable et al were supposed to represent has started to look very much like business as usual, largely because in the fine tradition of their party the first Liberal Democrats to achieve positions of power in almost a century have let the chance to bring about real change slip through their fingers.

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