Could Clegg and Cameron end up expanding the state?

John Gray assesses the fortunes of the coalition.

In the current London Review of Books, the New Statesman's lead non-fiction reviewer John Gray assesses the fortunes of the coalition government. The most provocative part of his analysis is that while both Clegg and Cameron are ardent devotees of the free market, they may in, the long run, end up expanding state intervention in the economy:

As a consequence of the financial crisis, the market-based globalisation of the past couple of decades is giving way to a model in which states are the principal actors. Chinese state capitalism has weathered the global crisis better than any market liberal economy and even Russia is less burdened by debt. After the implosion of the American financial system emerging economies need no longer submit to the dictates of a 'Washington consensus' that was never implemented in Washington. It might be thought that the current phase of globalisation would allow a greater degree of international co-operation. In some ways, however, this new phase is more disorderly. The retreat of American power has left the world without a functioning monetary regime. Economic imbalances are surfacing in geopolitical rivalries and currency wars, and it is unclear how these conflicts will develop. What is evident is that the era in which states were ready to surrender control of their economies to market forces is over. The postwar welfare state may be history, but governments cannot risk leaving their populations without a shelter against chaos. If social democracy is not a viable option, neither is market liberalism.

A roll-back of the state of the magnitude that the coalition envisages will leave people more exposed to the turbulence of world markets than they have been for generations. Inevitably, they will seek protection.

[...]

Cameron and Clegg belong in a generation shaped by the ideas of the 1980s; but in forming the coalition they have demonstrated an impressive ability to break with the past. They may turn out to be the politicians who lead Britain into a new era of statism.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform