Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

GOTV: You think YOU’RE screwed? A Cautionary Tale from Britain

Six months ago, Britain’s left had an enthusiasm gap too.

Prior to the General Election of May 2010, a lot of progressives were disaffected with the Brown Premiership, jaded after 13 years of New Labour. However, despite the makeovers and compassionate conservatism, the Tory Party still wasn’t detoxified from the days of Thatcher and Major. David Cameron hadn’t sealed that deal. So many people I know decided to experiment with their votes.

Our first ever Prime Ministerial TV Election Debates had a huge impact too. For the first time the leader of the smaller third party, the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg, got equal billing with major party leaders Gordon Brown and David Cameron. He looked plausible, articulate, and could throw his hands up in Ronald Reagan fashion (“there you go again”) when the two big party leaders slugged it out.

For a while the papers were filled with Cleggmania. The media narrative was all about this new force in British politics. The polls spiked up and Mark Penn explained how consumer politics had changed the UK forever. Many ‘progressives’ (like my son and his mother) decided to vote tactically. They were bored and disappointed with New Labour not being radical enough. So why not go for a more radical alternative? The Lib Dems were different. They must be more progressive. (No less an authority than Jerome Armstrong on MYDD told me they were way to the left of Labour)

As it turned out, the swing to the Lib Dems wasn’t great. Come election night, thanks to anomalies of first past the post, there were actually fewer seats for them. But the Lib Dems had, in the seat where my son and his mother live, stolen enough votes from Labour to let the Tories in.

More importantly, for the first time in living memory there was a ‘hung parliament’ with no one party with an overall majority. And what happened next? Our first Coalition government since World War II.

Now you’d think, given the overwhelming overlap of policies, especially on welfare, Europe and Green issues, this would have been a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition. But thanks to the Parliamentary mathematics, the abrasive style of Brown and the subtle shift in Lib Dem thinking since Clegg had taken over, a Conservative Lib Dem Coalition was created.

Of course, we on the left immediately called it the ConDem Coalition, but the public liked to see Cameron and Clegg outside Number Ten together. They looked young. They looked different (even though they went to the two most elite private schools in the country). Meritocracy, pragmatism, youth and reasonableness had returned the the land. The cameras flashed. The media fawned.

But follow me below to find out how tactical protest voting ended in tears….

Five months into office, using the cover of the bond markets, cajoled by the Right Wing Press (mainly controlled by an American Citizen called Rupert Murdoch) this so called ‘Liberal Conservative Government’ has announced, in its Comprehensive Spending Review, the biggest cuts to government spending since 1921.

The ostensible reasoning for this is clear. They say they don’t want reduced spending: it’s not ideological but practical: this hurt us more than it hurts you. Britain had until recently the biggest annual deficit in the G7. This is largely due to the massive bailout of British banks two years ago (bigger than the US as a proportion of GDP) and the loss of tax revenues in an economy which had become over-reliant on financial services and the City.

82 billion has been slashed from the budget for the next five years – that’s 25 per cent of all government spending – double that the French have been proposing, and larger than any other major industrialised nation.

Unlike Ireland and Greece, there was no real problem with raising money on the bond markets. Our bonds are fixed for longer terms than most countries our actual accumulated debt in on the low side – below France and Germany.

There are some salient differences with the US. Military spending has been cut by 10 per cent, and international aid and healthcare has been ring fenced. Taxes are also going up, but mainly in indirect VAT which regressively impacts the poor rather than the better off.

Over half a million public sector jobs are to be cut. The Coalition says this is ‘non ideological’ but the state has grown too large an employer (though it actually employs a lesser percentage than under Thatcher). The Coalition says private sector  ‘growth’ will take up the slack, but with another 700,000 jobs being lost in the private sector thanks to the knock on effects of the cut backs, the private sector (still starved of loans since the banking crisis) has to create 2.5 million new jobs in the next five years… during a world wide recession when exports are suppressed.  

But since then, the changes to benefits and house provision have been announced. New affordable housing projects have been shelved. Housing benefits for the low paid, elderly, sick and unemployed are now capped, and will no longer follow market rates, leading to the exodus of hundreds of thousands from our expensive inner cities, and the end of the unique mix of different classes and incomes which has made London such a diverse place.

In a year in which the CEOs of the top 100 FTSE companies say their pay rise by 35%, the proposed cuts and tax rises(themselves a result of the bank bailout and credit crunch) will fall inordinately on the poor.

The revered Institute of Fiscal Studies calculates the bottom 10% will, on average, lose about 5.5% of their net income compared to roughly 4.5% for the top 10%.

Let us remember that the 5.5 per cent cut will affect people on very tight budgets, who can barely feed themselves healthily. Whereas the cuts on the top 10 per cent will result in fewer luxuries being bought.

But just forget the social injustice of this – think of the economic impact: public sector deleveraging at a time of private sector deleveraging risks creating a double dip, and the kind of deflationary stasis Japan has suffered for the last decade. As for the deficit, it could be increased by the loss of growth thanks to these cuts.

As Paul Krugman said in The New York Times last week.

Both the new British budget announced on Wednesday and the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement might have come straight from the desk of Andrew Mellon, the Treasury secretary who told President Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression by liquidating the farmers, liquidating the workers, and driving down wages. Or if you prefer more British precedents, it echoes the Snowden budget of 1931, which tried to restore confidence but ended up deepening the economic crisis.

Britain’s Coalition Government is conducting a huge social and economic experiment. Though they claim to be ‘classic liberals’ much of the programme of cuts takes the tax and benefit system back to the early 20th Century. The inequality of the Gini Coefficient, ramped up massively under Thatcher and only marginally offset by New Labour under Blair and Brown, is set to increase again markedly. Once again a whole generation could be lost to unemployment. Our inner cities could be eviscerated. Already the BBC has had it’s de facto independence removed by stealth during Comprehensive Spending Review.

As more has dripped out over the week since they were announced, it becomes clear these cuts have been hurried, ill thought out, often unenforceable and with hidden costs down the line. The Coalition could also fail before its five year term is up, especially if civil unrest follows the clear injustice of the plan. However, all that is in the future, and as it stands, the poorest in our society are having to pay for the mistakes of the richest.

Every Lib Dem voter I know, including my son and his mother, now regret what they did in May.

So, when you think about voting next week, and either think about abstaining, or casting your vote tactically to ‘send a message’ to a tired or somewhat discredited administration.

Think what happened here. And think again.


  1. Strummerson

    that once I participated peripherally with a group called “Billionaires for Bush or Gore.”

    We marched in Philly during the 2000 GOP convention protests, dressed up like Monopoly cartoon millionaires chanting:







    Great street theatre.  We were so witty.  Our arguments were pretty good.  As if there was no daylight between Bush and Gore.

    I’ll never make that mistake again.

    Looking across the pond and very worried.  The Tea Party is nothing more or less than the second coming of the John Birch Society with popular support, pushing exactly these policies.

    Thanks for the wake-up call Brit.

    It’s right in place and right on time.

  2. creamer

      I live in one of the most conservative districts in Michigan. At the local clerk/treasurer level Dems don’t even run. Benero needs a miracle. I’m voting for judges and regents.


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