Cameron is wrong: the spending cuts are ideological

The Prime Minister says the cuts are not due to his “ideological zeal”. Here’s why he’s wrong.

In his New Year message, David Cameron attempts to rebut the charge that the government's spending cuts are ideologically driven.

He writes:

I didn't come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas. We're tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal. This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country's problems, not by ideology.

Here are three reasons why he's wrong.

The coalition could have taxed more and cut less

There was an alternative to George Osborne's £81bn spending cuts: higher taxes on the richest in our society. The Chancellor has chosen to reduce the deficit through a 59:41 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises in 2010/2011, rising to 77:23 by 2015/2016 (see Table 1.1 in the Budget).

But as the graphic below from the Economist shows, most deficit reductions have involved a far more even split between tax rises and spending cuts.

Deficit-reduction

The coalition's deficit reduction programme relies more heavily on spending cuts than all but two of the largest OECD fiscal consolidations.

A higher level of tax rises on top earners would have enabled a more progressive programme of fiscal consolidation (the cuts are, by any measure, regressive) and, as I explain below, a less economically reckless approach.

The coalition could have raised more revenue through a tax on land value (69 per cent of which is owned by just 0.6 per cent of the population); a genuine crackdown on the £25bn lost each year through tax avoidance; a tougher, not a weaker, bank levy; and higher, not lower, corporation tax.

The decision to rely on punitive spending cuts to reduce the deficit was a political choice, not an economic necessity.

Spending cuts harm the economy more than tax rises

Economists are agreed that the government's spending cuts will hit growth harder than tax rises would. As Duncan Weldon explains at the excellent False Economy, the fiscal multiplier (the effect on GDP of a tax rise or a spending cut) proves as much. The Office for Budget Responsibility's own multipliers (see Table C8 in the Budget) show that the cuts will reduce growth by significantly more than the coalition's tax rises.

As the shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, noted in his pre-Spending Review speech: "We know from the Office for Budget Responsibility's own figures that a spending cut hits growth twice as hard as a tax change – three times as hard when it's capital spending."

The government's decision to ignore such economic evidence is the result of an ideological preference for spending cuts.

The cuts are permanent, not temporary

When asked by a Fire Brigade worker last summer if funding would be restored once the deficit has been addressed, Cameron replied:

The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, [is] I think we should be trying to avoid that approach.

The Prime Minister's insistence that we should try to "avoid that approach" reveals an ideological attachment to the small state and to low levels of public spending. The result will be permanently shrunken public services.

The cuts will reduce public spending from 47.3 per cent of GDP in 2010/2011 to 39.8 per cent in 2015/2016 – equivalent to reductions made by Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990. But for many on the right, this is just the beginning of their long war against the active state.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.