Monday, 26 September 2011

Labour & Morality... pt 2

The electorate are not only not listening – they have their fingers in their ears. Labour, after suffering its second worst election defeat in history, is still being treated like a reviled ex-boyfriend. He may well protest that he did his share of the washing-up (or built some SureStart centres, schools and hospitals); what you remember is that he treated you badly. And he was also in charge of the joint finances and left you with a stonking overdraft, then he's got a hell of a lot more explaining to do. Mary Ann Sieghart writes in today's Independent.

This morning Ed Balls did the round of media breakfast shows to publicise his Liverpool conference speech. He is looking for the mantle of 'economic competence' after presiding over the greatest financial disaster this country has seen, followed by the deepest and longest recession since the 1930's. Result? An increase in public borrowing from £350 billion to £1.3 trillion that future generations will be paying back.

Mea Culpa? The banking crisis was a disaster. All over the world, banks behaved irresponsibly and regulation wasn’t tough enough. We were part of that. I’m sorry for that mistake, I deeply, deeply regret it. What we failed to see, around the world, was the scale of those risks. I’m sorry about that. So thats all right then. It wasn't Labour's incompetence - every government made the same mistakes.

Except that they didn't. Labour actually planned that future generations would pay off today's debts. It's called Private Finance Initiative or PFI. Over the 13 years of Labour's rule it was used to rack up more than £180 billion of building work whose interest costs and repayment would be paid not by today's taxpayers, but by committing future generations to taxes that repay these schemes over 30 or 50 years. Furthermore, these repayments would be at prices that the commercial banks - who took on these PFI contracts - found deeply attractive. Newspaper headlines just last week included NHS hospitals 'crippled' by PFI scheme.

There are few more things that perhaps Mr Miliband might like to apologise for before we award his party the accolade of 'competence' - or indeed moral decency. The longest sustained period of youth unemployment for decades which started to grow dramatically after EMA was introduced in 2004. I point out the introduction of EMA because that year also marked the twelfth year of consistent economic growth begun under John Major in 1992. So it couldn't have been the economy. But six years later, when Labour left office in 2010, over one million 18-25 year olds (called NEETS - not in employment, education or training) were still a devasting indictment of Labour's record.

Despite the daily spin of tabloid-chasing headlines, trumpeting the opening of each new glamorous PFI-financed school, the devastating truth was record numbers of children leaving school unable to read. Their future blighted as they became effectively excluded from better paid jobs. Indeed they would be lucky to be able to find a job at all. Over 90% of all new jobs created under thirteen years of Labour government went not to British, but foreign-born workers as more than a million East Europeans took advantage of Labour's open door immigration policy. This, despite Gordon Brown announcing 'British jobs for British workers' at his first conference as Labour Prime Minister in 2007.

As the PFI record now shows, the building spree so celebrated by Labour apologists was often used to mask the reality of devastating political decisions. To say the taxpayers money that it spent was not always done wisely would be very charitable. Tens of billions were wasted in defence procurement and on IT systems - a £12 billion NHS computer system unable to recall a patient's medical record was scrapped in the last few days. The terrible truth is that much of the extra cash ploughed into public services failed to show up in better outcomes as productivity in the public sector shrank and the pay of public sector employees oustripped the private sector whose taxes financed it.

Also in the Health service, a record level of complaints from the elderly emerged about their treatment in the NHS. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 700 elderly people died of dehydration in our hospitals. Not old age or a terminal illness, but de-hydration. That is, multiple organ failure caused by lack of water. An unbelievable indictment of clinical practice despite massive investment in hospitals, equipment and training.

Under Labour, there emerged the widest gap between rich and poor in our history – currently the left’s favourite cause - and seemingly officially encouraged. It was Peter Mandelson who described New Labour as intensely relaxed about the filthy rich... whilst spending a lot of time lunching on their yachts. Record personal debt emerged as a widespread and serious issue as Labour set up not only the most deregulated banking system on earth, but a seemingly useless tripartite financial regulatory regime that allowed the banks to nearly destroy our economy.

There is of course a great deal more - the doubling of council tax, the scrapping of the 10p tax rate which hit only the poorest, a doubling of alcohol-related deaths after the introduction of 24-hour drinking, 8 million people totally dependent upon state handouts despite a burgeoning black economy, the most regressive ‘flat tax’ in history paid equally by people earning £10 or £10 million - euphemistically called ‘the congestion charge’ and a war so controversial that the former party leader can’t even attend his own book signings.

An apology Mr Miliband, would be a start. But your party is still a long way from being described as either competent or morally decent.