Tory minister: Thatcher only “dreamt of” our cuts

Conservative minister Greg Baker admits: “We are making cuts that Thatcher could only have dreamt of

Finally, a member of the government has admitted what David Cameron and George Osborne will not: that the cuts are worse than anything we saw under Margaret Thatcher. Speaking away from home at an event at the Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, the climate change minister Greg Barker said:

We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s could only have dreamt of.

An examination of the data on the subject proves that he is right. As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is a myth to claim that spending was cut under Thatcher. Total public spending rose by 1.1 per cent a year on average and fell in real terms in two years only: 1985-86 and 1988-89.

By contrast, the coalition plans to reduce overall public spending by 3.7 per cent by 2014-2015, an average cut of 0.9 per cent a year. If that figure seems small to you, it's because the government will have to spend more on welfare benefits and debt interest.

But the graph below, which excludes non-discretionary spending, shows that the coalition is planning, in the words of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, "the longest, and deepest sustained, period of cuts to public spending since (at least) WWII". In total, departmental spending will be cut by 11.7 per cent.

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It's for this reason that it was so foolish for Nick Clegg to claim that the coalition would avoid the "savage cuts" of the 1980s. Unlike the Deputy PM, Barker has done his homework.

PS: The local US paper the Daily Gamecock claims that Barker said his colleagues "plan to cut spending by 75 per cent". It's entirely unclear what this figure refers to and, as the newspaper doesn't quote Barker directly, I'd give it a wide berth.

UPDATE: Mehdi rightly points out that Labour shouldn't get too excited. Their cuts would have been worse than Thatcher's as well.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.