Thursday, 21 October 2010

Tribalism, hatred & Labour

'George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried' writes Johann Hari in today's Independent. 'The Bullingdon boys want to finish what Thatcher began' is Seumas Milne's verdict while Polly Toynbee rages yet again 'The glee club on the government benches could hardly contain their delight'. Next we'll have the 'don't dare to be old, don't dare to be ill' speech and all the other ideologically driven false rhetoric that the left has pedalled for years, as if schools, hospitals and welfare did not exist before 1997, and all we need is perpetual Labour government.

I think we all understand that Labour committed itself to delivering £83bn of public expenditure cuts over the next four years - the largest program of cuts since the 1920's. Having left office in May bequeathing the largest budget deficit in our history, Labour additionally committed us to a doubling of the national debt - the total of all borrowings owed by this country - to over £1.4 trillion by the end of this parliament in 2015. That's what 'halving the deficit' - not eliminating it - actually means. The other half continues to grow. What a legacy for 13 years of Labour government.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that such cuts will produce the greatest social catastrophe in our history. The truth however, is just not so. Total government expenditure as a percentage of GDP will fall. But only back to levels last seen in ...2007. Just three years ago.

I have to say that back in the day - the 'colder and crueller country' of 2007 as Johann Hari might call it - I didn't notice the civil war now being forecast on our streets as our welfare state had been 'dismantled' (as Seumas Milne says). I didn't notice the massed rallies of trade union protesters as Blair, Brown and Labour 'slashed and burned' (as Ed's Miliband and Balls put it) the welfare state to a level that was unacceptable for a decent and compassionate society.

The truth is that even with the reductions in public expenditure bequeathed by Labour, valued front line services - hospitals, schools etc - are being protected, whilst the essential reforms to public service delivery that Brown and Labour ducked, are now being undertaken by the most radical government of the last 100 years.

Like any government they will get things wrong. They will make mistakes. The last Labour government certainly did. But they deserve better than this torrent of 'emotion and prejudice' that is tribal hatred. The nasty party is still alive and well. It is called Labour.