This Budget is about ideology as much as fiscal responsibility

It was Maggie Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren. Now this government will take money from

The Budget showed that, for the Conservatives, the problem facing the country is one of government rather than of the market. The Tories believe that the problem lies with the state, the size of which should be reduced, and not with the banks which collapsed.

That much is clear from how the burden of the Budget will fall: of the £40bn additional fiscal tightening being proposed, it looks as though £13bn will be achieved by raising VAT and £11bn by an attack on welfare. In contrast, £2bn is being raised by the banking levy. This reveals the priorities of this Conservative-led coalition.

The burden of the changes introduced will fall particularly heavily on the poorest and on working people more generally. The Chancellor said that he had a choice between raising income tax or VAT. About £1 of every £7 that poor people spend goes on VAT, while for the rich, the figure is about £1 in every £25. It is highly regressive and that it was increased reflects the right-wing agenda being elaborated by this government.

People have reason to fear other elements of the Budget. It was Margaret Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren. Now this government will take money from poorer mothers.

According to the TUC, the announcements made show that poorer mothers will lose about £1,200 a year. This may not affect the 22 millionaires sitting around the cabinet, but it can make a difference to many children and families. Whatever my differences with them, I do not believe people joined the Liberal Democrat party to attack poorer mothers, but that is what this Budget does.

It would not be my priority at this time to go for further fiscal tightening, given the fragility of the economy and the lack of demand elsewhere in the world. This view has been expressed by others, including President Barack Obama in his letter to the G20. The chief economist at KPMG, Andrew Smith, has described the Budget as a "kill or cure" plan, and went on to say:

The aim is to eliminate the structural deficit over this parliament, but it risks choking off the recovery. There is no guarantee that private demand will rebound just because the government retrenches.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, asked how hard it could be to understand that governments can save economies rather than destroy them. Yet, as he said: "politicians seem determined to do the reverse. They're eager to short-change the economy when it needs help."

We are taking a huge risk with the future of our economy. Two million private-sector employees work for companies that are dependent on government contracts. Further damage will inevitably be done to the private sector by cuts aimed at the public sector.

When we look at the performance of the private sector, we see that it, rather than the public sector, has brought about the reduction in GDP, especially in investment. People may not like to use the word, but if there is a strike going on at the moment: an investment strike in the private sector. We can understand why it happened, but nonetheless, £6 of every £10 of the reduction in GDP is down to the decline in private-sector investment.

It is not clear to me how cuts now will suddenly lead to growth in private-sector investment. Furthermore, the Budget shows a decline in public-sector investment from £47bn in 2008-2009 to £21bn by 2014.

The underlying economic philosophy of the Budget is that, by reducing the state, the private sector will flourish. The reverse is true, as we know from J M Keynes and from what happened in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Roosevelt's New Deal rebuilt the American infrastructure and economy. The private sector was able to revive through expenditure, not cuts.

The May election gave no legitimacy for the course the government has set. Inevitably, there will be resistance both in parliament and outside. It is for the Labour Party to reflect carefully on how we respond. It will want to react responsibly, but we should place ourselves alongside people and communities who are resisting the cuts.

Jon Trickett is the Labour Party MP for Hemsworth.

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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Jeremy Corbyn faces a dilemma as Brexit solidifies: which half of his voters should he disappoint?

He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club.

Imagine a man who voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975. A man who spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, saying that it “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. A man who voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

You don’t have to imagine very hard, because that man is Jeremy Corbyn. When campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015, he told a GMB hustings, “I would ­advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free-market policies across Europe.”

When Labour’s Brexiteers gathered to launch their campaign in 2016, several seemed hurt that Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were not there with them. “It is surprising, when we voted against the advice of the chief whip on a number of European issues over the last decades, that Jeremy and John, who have always been in that lobby with us, that they would want to lead a campaign that isn’t even asking for a renegotiated position,” said the MP Graham Stringer.

I mention this because since the election campaign started in April, I keep having an odd experience – people insisting that Corbyn is not a Eurosceptic, and that he will use Labour’s new-found strength to argue for a softer Brexit. Others claim that Labour’s current position on freedom of movement (ending it) is the obvious, common-sense – even progressive – choice.

This matters. Look, if the evidence above doesn’t convince you that the Labour leader is intensely relaxed about exiting the European Union, I don’t know what else would. Yet it’s clear that some Labour activists strongly identify personally with Corbyn: they find it hard to believe that he holds different opinions from them.

The second factor is the remaking of Brexit as a culture war, where to say that someone is a Eurosceptic is seen as a kind of slur. Perhaps without realising it, some on the left do associate Euroscepticism with Little Englanderism or even flat-out racism, and see it as a moral failing rather than a political position.

But I’m not impugning Jeremy Corbyn’s character or morals by saying that he is an instinctive Brexiteer. He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club. You can disagree with that premise but it’s a respectable line of reasoning.

Also, the Euroscepticism of Corbyn and his allies will undoubtedly give them an advantage in the months ahead; they are not consumed by fatalism, and the members of McDonnell’s shadow Treasury team feel that the removal of European state aid restrictions can help revive ailing bits of the British economy. They have a vision of what an ideal “Labour Brexit” would be – and it’s not just sobbing and begging Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to take us back.

We do, however, need a reality check. Now that the necessary humble pie has been eaten, Labour’s unexpected revival at the ballot box means we can begin to treat Corbyn as a normal politician – with the emphasis on the second word. He’s not the Messiah, but he’s not a joke either. He is a charismatic campaigner who is willing to compromise on second-tier issues to achieve his main objectives.

From the general election, we can see just how good a campaigner Corbyn is: he can fire up a crowd, give disciplined answers to interviewers and chat amiably on a sofa. That throws into sharp relief just how limp his performances were last year.

He might have little else in common with Theresa May, but they both looked at the EU referendum and thought: yeah, I’m going to sit this one out. He called on activists to accept the EU “warts and all”; and said he was “seven, or seven and a half” out of ten in favour of staying in it.

For both leaders, this was a pragmatic decision. May did not want to be overtly disloyal to David Cameron, but neither did she wish to risk her career if the result went the other way.

Anyone in Labour would have been equally sane to look north of the border and back to 2014, and remember just how much credibility the party immolated by sharing stages with the Conservatives and allowing itself to be seen as the establishment. By limiting his involvement in the Remain campaign and whipping his MPs to trigger Article 50, Corbyn ended up with a fudge that gave Labour some cover in heavily pro-Brexit regions of the country.

That’s the politics, but what about the principle? I can’t shake the feeling that if Corbyn campaigned as hard for Remain in 2016 as he did for Labour in 2017, we would still be members of the European Union. And that matters to me, as much as left-wing policies or a change in the rhetoric around migrants and welfare claimants, because I think leaving the EU is going to make us poorer and meaner.

That’s why I worry that many of my friends, and the activists I talk to, are about to be disappointed, after waiting and waiting for Labour to start making the case for a softer Brexit and for the single market being more important than border controls. As Michael Chessum, a long-standing Momentum organiser, wrote on the New Statesman website, “Recognising the fact that immigration enriches society is all very well, but that narrative is inevitably undermined if you then choose to abolish the best policy for allowing immigration to happen.”

Labour’s success on 8 June was driven by its ambiguous stance on Brexit. To Leavers, it could wink at ending freedom of movement when they worried about immigration; to Remainers, it offered a critique of the immigrant-bashing rhetoric of recent times. But can that coalition hold as the true shape of Brexit solidifies? Over the next few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest decision will be this: which half of my voters should I disappoint?

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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