David Laws’s defence of spending cuts doesn’t stand up

The former cabinet minister is wrong to argue that the cuts will enable a strong recovery.

If the coalition is ever in need of a hagiographer, it need look no further than David Laws. The former chief secretary to the Treasury has penned an embarrassingly uncritical defence of the government's spending cuts for the Guardian.

He declares that 2011 is likely to be the year that "recovery is entrenched". What he fails to mention is that, thanks to the coalition's doctrinaire spending cuts, it will be an anaemic recovery at best, with growth proceeding at a slower pace than in the recoveries of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (judging by the Office for Budget Responsibility's own figures).

Elsewhere, Laws credits the decision to begin cutting spending last year with enabling higher-than-expected growth. In fact, the strong growth Britain experienced in 2010 was largely the result of the last Labour government's fiscal stimulus. As the Times's Anatole Kaletsky (£) wrote in October:

The trouble is that monetary and fiscal policies take a long time to work their way through the economy – typically, one to two years. Yesterday's robust growth figures reflect last year's decisions by the Bank and the previous government. They tell us nothing, and indeed may mislead us, about how the new government's fiscal measures will interact with the Bank's monetary policies in the years ahead.

Yet Laws makes no mention of the fiscal stimulus: a policy opposed, after all, by his Conservative allies.

He notes that the "Lib Dem-inspired increase in the personal income-tax allowance will boost the incomes of basic-rate taxpayers", but fails to add that the gains are meagre compared to the losses from the coalition's tax rises and welfare cuts. The decision to raise the income-tax threshold to £7,475 will benefit low-to-middle-income earners by roughly £170 a year.

But, as Gavin Kelly pointed out in a recent piece for the NS, this is not enough to offset the rise in VAT (which will cost each household approximately £520 a year), let alone the far larger tax-credit cuts.

Laws gives the appearance of someone who has never read any of the arguments against his position. His return to government is surely imminent.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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