in government is really a coalition between a friendly-faced,
pale-Green, touchy-feely public face and the hardline ideological
market-fundamentalist neoliberals, blue in tooth and claw.
We are promised cuts. We are threatened
with cuts. We are warned of cuts. Cuts as inevitable as a new day. Cuts
to be dealt out with a heavy heart. Cuts that were made inevitable by
Labour’s recklessness and waste of public money.
All of this is nonsense. This government
has a deep ideological investment in downsizing the state; they want to
complete the Thatcherite project, to go much further than she ever
managed. They have a disgust at the state and a blind faith in markets.
Our enormous deficit was brought about by the recklessness of the
financial markets and the steps necessary for the state to save them
from themselves. And for this the state is going to be punished.
They want to clear the deficit in four
years. Why? Our borrowing has a 14-year limit on it. No other country
has had to cut like us - except Greece, who are on the verge of
bankrupcy. We are not. In Sweden and Canada, where they had to make
similarly savage cuts to welfare in the mid-nineties, they cut much more
slowly and did so with a view to building a foundation for further
expansion. This lot want to cut because they hate the state.
They’re in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats but only one fraction of the Liberal Democrats: that group that created the Orange Book
which attempted to restore the classical liberal roots of the party.
They were a bit of a fringe until now. Will this be any good for them? I
doubt it. They risk being sucked into the Tory project and being
associated with this wanton destruction of cherished things. Worse, they
risk being seen as the figleaf.
Labour planned cuts. I think we’d have
accepted Labour cuts more readily than we will accept Tory cuts, because
we know Labour are fundamentally behind a strong welfare state. We know
that for thirty years the Tories have been hostile to the state, happy
to see people sink or swim, ready to accept poverty and suffering as
signs of healthy competition.
What is remarkable is that the credit
crunch is providing the basis for this. What the credit shows more than
anything is that markets are not rational or self-correcting and they
don’t necessarily distribute wealth through a system; just as readily
they spread poison through it. There was a moment when we might have
sacrificed a bit of growth and tempered competition for a system that
was fairer, more responsive to social need, less fuelled by greed and
fear. There might have been a deep change. Instead, the state is going
to be made to suffer, while the financial markets stand to one side
lecturing us all on financial responsibility and waste.
All of this ideological extremism is being sold to us as simple good financial sense. Which is, of course, how ideology works. It’s a filthy time.