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Strictly come statecraft: Laurie Penny on how the government protects the rich

This is a government that sees the wealthy as its core constituency.

Dance, Vince Cable, dance! The Business Secretary, whose hotly anticipated reality tv debut will be airing on Strictly Come Dancing's spangly Christmas Day special, has made the supreme error of actually having and expressing an agenda. His ongoing humiliation in the press and the to-ing and fro-ing over his continued place in cabinet prove beyond question that the Liberal Democrats have no real influence in this Coalition government: they are there to smile and soft-shuffle and sprinkle a bit of liberal glitter over Tory policies. Cable's declaration that he would oppose Rupert Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB is unhelpfully aggressive towards a key sponsor and promoter of the Conservative Party, so his puppet-masters have seized the strings, ensuring that the Business Secretary dances to the right tune.

Mr Cable, along with millions of left-leaning citizens, may have been labouring under the impression that the Business Secretary, who won the public's trust and confidence as a steady hand on the economic tiller during the election debates, is in the cabinet in order to guide policy. This has clearly been a gross misreading of the situation. Cable, more than any other Liberal Democrat, is not part of this cabinet of millionaires in order to wield power. He is there, in the words of Douglas Adams, in order to distract attention away from power - specifically, to lend legitimacy and a venerable, brow-furrowing, statesmanly air to the savage programme of spending cuts and welfare destruction being enacted by the Conservatives in cabinet who, lest we forget, did not actually win the general election in May.

Almost nobody has questioned whether or not Cable may have had a good reason for wanting to wage a private war against the Murdoch media monopoly. On the contrary, Conservative reasoning on this question was best expressed by Douglas Carswell MP, who wrote on his blog:

Murdoch's "empire"....is the product of millions of free citizens willingly paying for products and services that Murdoch provides them. Politicians like Mr Cable and I are only able to do all the things we claim to be able to do because of the wealth creators like Murdoch. We should not forget it.

This is a government that protects the rich at all costs, praising business owners and media moguls as "wealth creators" while doing everything in its power to divert wealth towards them. This is a government which sees the rich as its core constituency -- the people without whose mandate politicians could not "do the things they claim to be able to do". It's a strictly choreographed dance of corporate-sponsored statecraft, and any Lib Dem who falters over the rhythm will be jerked mercilessly back into step. On Christmas Day, we'll all get to see Vince Cable dance to the music of cartoon politics -- but if you look closely, you'll see David Cameron pulling the strings.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.