The Tories are good at politics but hopeless at economics

It's the Conservatives' plans for immediate spending cuts that would stamp on the recovery.


Here is the Tories' latest poster, which rather brings to mind George Orwell's vision of the future as being "a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever". It is undoubtedly the party's most effective poster yet, and looks just about spoof-proof to me.

With a day to go until Gordon Brown calls the election, the political momentum is clearly with the Conservatives. But while the Tories are getting better at politics (that National Insurance pledge has helped them in the polls), they remain hopeless at economics.

Had they been in power at the time of the financial crisis, it is almost certain that Britain would still be in recession. Their opposition to fiscal stimulus and their support for early spending cuts would have prevented even the modest growth we've seen.

The 0.4 per cent growth in the final quarter of 2009 (up from a previous estimate of 0.1 per cent) was largely thanks to higher public spending and the car scrappage scheme.

The irony of the new poster is that, as our own David Blanchflower has persistently warned, it is the Tories' plans for immediate spending cuts that would choke the recovery and trigger a double-dip recession.

Meanwhile, David Cameron continues to claim that he can simultaneously cut taxes, cut the Budget deficit and protect front-line public services.

The limits of this approach were exposed today by the King's Fund, which accused George Osborne of indulging in a "sleight of hand" by promising to use the money the National Health Service would save from a cut in NI to fund £200m worth of new cancer drugs.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the fund, said: "It's a sleight of hand to say the least, because the money isn't there to be saved yet, so the money will have to come out of existing budgets."

There's plenty for Labour to get its teeth into here. But it needs to find a way to communicate the contradictions of the Tory approach to the electorate -- and soon.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.