A Coalition of cuts

Huw Iranca Davies says the Budget decisions threaten to send the Welsh economy into intensive care

The perceived wisdom that pervades the public sphere at the moment is that cuts have to happen and soon. People are not questioning it any more. In concert with the Liberal Conservative Coalition the media lead the Westminster village by the nose to accept that severe pain is inevitable, Meanwhile, the rest of the country asks meekly “How deep? How hard? How long?”

Protected by his Liberal Democrat shield David Cameron steps in front of the cameras and tells the world that it’s far worse than even he feared, and boy did he really fear the worst. He has looked into the abyss, and cannot see the bottom. It’s going to be hell he says, and I’m your man to take us through that hell. You can really sense the relish of his Big Boys Own Adventure.

It must look quite exciting if lonely for the Prime Minister on that high perch in No 10 looking down on the country and feeling for their pain. It must be daunting but simultaneously exhilarating in the Cabinet Office when contemplating the cuts, deciding where to swing the axe. However, it’s made easier being surrounded by so many compassionate coalition friends who can empathise with the plight of the poor public. Remind me again, how many millionaires are there in the cabinet? Fifteen? Eighteen? Twenty? What’s a few millionaires between friends?

You really do have to admire (respect? fear?) the Conservative leader for the smooth and silken way he has bought the Liberal Democratic soul so cheaply, and has simultaneously had his wicked way with the media. His ultimate goal of course is to deceive the public, and he is well on his way to doing so.

Let’s start with the Liberal Democrats. There’s nothing like a bit of consistency, and certainly that nice Mr Clegg has demonstrated that he wouldn’t recognise consistency if it strode up and slapped him across the face till he was black and blue – or should that be orange and blue – from now till his dying day.

Yet there was a time only recently when I thought the Lib Dems had not only found a consistent message on the economy, but for once they were on the right side of the argument. Throughout the General Election – yes the one just a few short weeks ago – that nice Nick Clegg and the much lauded Vince Cable endlessly repeated the mantra that if the cuts were too early and too severe, the fragile economic recovery would be thrown catastrophically into reverse. They said it so often, I started to believe that they really believed it themselves. I was saying it myself, because on this issue in the Labour Party, “we all agreed with Nick”.

Ah, but that was yester-week. After a few short days being courted by the Conservatives, they were taught the error of their ways, and now – with the commitment of a reformed alcoholic on the wagon – they evangelise about the pain we all need to suffer. The Coalition of Cuts is complete.

But not quite. Nothing beats an obedient press for a good and successful propaganda exercise. Roll out the roll-call of publicly-paid political pundits and Murdoch mercenaries to repeat the doctrine of cut, slash, burn, destroy. Say it often enough goes the theory of the big lie, and everyone but everyone believes it.

When this doctrine of doom is being endlessly recycled in the tabloids and the broadsheets, from GQ to the chip wrappers (or is it the other way around), then it can’t be wrong can it? But it can be wrong. It can be dangerously wrong. And unless we challenge it we will hurtle headlong into an abyss of our very own making.

The trick the Conservatives are pulling is nothing new. But I really commend them for the way they have coaxed and flattered and flummoxed their new found friends down this same path. The science of Disaster Economics is no stranger to the Conservatives, but for the Lib Dems this is a very special and defining moment. It is a Rubicon moment. It makes them what they will be for a political generation, and there is simply no turning back. This is the point at which the Lib Dems cross decisively from any pretence of occupying the centre-left, and morph into the genuine neo-liberals – the Conservatives’ new and best friends. The Orange Book authors have won. The outwitted pseudo-socialists and social democrats in the transformed party are dragged along reluctantly along in the wake of their right-wing outriders, or they choose to conform to the new orthodoxy seduced by the baubles of power.

Disaster Economics followed by Disaster Capitalism is not new to this country. It’s a cheery approach that says wherever there is tragedy, there is also opportunity. Someone picks up the pieces, and makes money from the mess. The greater the mess for the many, the more the opportunity for the few. We saw it in the 1980s, and the early 1990s. The so-called Shock Doctrine. Hard medicine, but it’s good for you. Kill or cure. Cure or kill. Whatever happens, someone makes a killing, while others are on the receiving end.

So what could be better for the resurrection of this post-Friedmanesque Frankenstein than a Prime Minister declaring, “It’s worse than I thought. I’m going to have to do something drastic  – for your own good you understand”. That’s what we are hearing today. In the aftermath of a global recession, the worst effects of which were only been mitigated by the leadership Gordon Brown gave to the EU and other world leaders – cometh the hour, along came the man – yesterday’s Budget revealed how far-reaching and premature the cuts will be. They will make the communities I represent not just bleed but haemorrhage economic life, and with it compromise their ability to withstand social evils. Someone has to say that this is wrong, incompetent, misguided, and wilfully malevolent.

There is another way out of this crisis which challenges the orthodoxy of the coalition government and their media harpies. It doesn’t mean ignoring the deficit or avoiding any cuts. It just means doing it right, at the right time. It’s not just in comedy that timing is everything. The same applies to economic recovery. Cut too deep, too hard, too fast and you don’t just choke recovery but you send it into intensive care.

The Lib Dems know that it didn’t have to be this way. They didn’t need to take the shilling and sign up for this carnage. It’s the wrong battle, under the wrong generals, with the wrong tactics and at the wrong time. When the casualties are littered across the country, in lost jobs, lost schools and hospital wards, lost policemen and women, when the growing dole queues are their dole queues and spiralling hospital waiting times are the direct result of their policies, when the savage cuts hit their own communities and the interest rates rise and the evictions escalate, let’s not hear any bleeding hearts or bleating mouths from the green benches of the Coalition Government. These are their decisions, their cuts, their neo-liberal agenda. The Lib Dems are now as one with the Tories. They will live or die by that alliance, but many communities will never ever forgive them.

Huw Iranca-Davies is Labour MP for Ogmore.

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