Sunday, 16 October 2011

Austerity isn’t working.

The party conference season is over and the political circus has packed up the bunting along with its hangovers and trooped back to Westminster as the leaves begin to turn. If there is a nip in the air this year it has as much to do with the state of the economy as the arrival of autumn.

Unemployment figures released on Wednesday show that the number of people out of work has risen by 114,000 to 2.57 million, reaching its highest level since the mid nineties. Part time workers have been hit hard as have the young with youth unemployment rising to 991,000, meaning that 21.3% of 16 to 24 year olds are without a job.

Alan Clarke, an economist for Scotia Capital, told the spike in unemployment ‘shouldn’t come as a surprise because the economy is growing at half the pace it needs to unemployment stable.’ Things are likely to only get worse with huge cuts in the public sector workforce and a failure on the part of the private sector to make up the jobs lost with fresh recruitment.

Labour leader Ed Milliband has called for an emergency budget to deal with the effects of the looming economic crisis saying the government needed to show a ‘greater sense of urgency’ and that its deficit reduction plans risk sending ‘our economy into a tailspin.’

In a speech made at a college in Southend this week he called for a plan for jobs to be implemented that would feature, amongst other elements, a one off tax on banker’s bonuses the proceeds from which would be used to create 100,000 jobs for young people; investment in large infrastructure projects that would create jobs and demand for services and tax breaks for small firms that take on extra staff.

The was, Mr Milliband said, ‘an economic emergency’ and that through its economic policies the government had shown itself to be out of touch ‘with what is happening in Britain’s factories, its high streets and its homes.’

The response from Tory MP Matthew Hancock, a former advisor to Chancellor George Osborne, was both predictable and cynical. He told the BBC that Labour had ‘abandoned the Darling plan and now freely admit they would just keep spending on the taxpayers credit card’, he added to this a jibe that just as ‘you wouldn’t bring Fred Goodwin back to run the banks, so why would you bring Ed Balls back to sort out the economy.’

I am, it is fair to say, not the most enthusiastic of cheerleaders for Red Ed, not least because most of the time he is barely pink at best; but his assessment of the damage being done to the economy and society by an arrogant and out of touch government is spot on. Quite how wide the gulf between the antics of our leaders and the experience of most Britons has become is amply demonstrated by the behaviour of Liam Fox and Oliver Letwin.

I don’t much want to join in the schoolyard game of nudging and winking that has been played by the press all week over the relationship between erstwhile Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Adam Weritty, a close friend who pretended to be one of his ministerial advisors in a political equivalent of saying ‘I’m with the band’ as a way of blagging stuff for free. What angers me and I suspect most people is the though of the not so fantastic Mr Fox and his VBF trotting the globe at the public expense while at the same time service people returning from Afghanistan were being handed redundancy notices along with their campaign medals.

As for the antics of ‘Posh Ollie’ Letwin, who it was revealed this week likes to read his ministerial correspondence in the park and then drop it in the bin because carrying all those confidential papers back to the office is the most awful fag, it is all too clear what has been going on. This is the latest incident in the gaffe prone career of a man who thinks his, alleged, intellect frees him from having to apply common sense to what he says or does. There are occasions when eccentricity can be a sign of brilliance; here though it is just a symptom of pathological self indulgence.

Far worse that this is the divorce from reality that has been occasioned by the vanity of the Prime Minister and the cynical ambition on his Chancellor, which could, in time, prove to be every bit as damaging as the decade long feud between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

David Cameron spends his time strutting the world stage pretending to be a world statesman whilst ignoring the growing problems in the UK, apart that is, from when he feels the urge to do his patronising ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ routine in the name of the ‘big society.’ George Osborne is sticking to his damaging deficit reduction plans not out of an intellectual commitment to their economic accuracy, which by the way seems to be disproved at least twice every week, as a cynical belief that if rather than when the coalition collapses and the Tory grassroots decide it is time for Citizen Dave to spend more time with his ego he will be ideally placed to sweep to power as the heir to the Iron Lady.

This is a government charged with leading our country through the worst economic crisis the world has faced since the thirties and at its heart is a toxic mix of arrogance, entitlement and jockeying for position. Across Europe young people are rioting in the streets because they have had their future stolen, but the political elite are carrying on as if nothing has changed. An austerity package implemented by these people is a recipe for disaster.

Years ago I used to drink in a bar that had by its exit a sign reminding leaving customers ‘You are now entering grim reality’; maybe it is time someone put a similar sign up in David Cameron’s office. He could get his new friend Tracy Emin to make one out of her old knickers if he likes anything so long as the message gets through that life for most people is getting harder by the day. Time to face the facts Dave, austerity isn’t working and you are leading a complacent government into an dangerous era.

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