Boris Johnson: Drop the hair shirt approach, George Osborne

In the wake of the negative GDP figures, the London mayor joins the chorus of voices questioning austerity.

Et tu, Boris? On Thursday, Nick Clegg stuck the knife into George Osborne's reputation for economic strategy by declaring that the coalition had cut capital spending too harshly in its early days.

Yesterday, in the wake of GDP figures showing the economy shrank by 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 - pushing Britain closer to a triple-dip recession - Boris Johnson also publicly questioned the Chancellor's appraoch.

From Davos, he said it was time to "junk the rhetoric of austerity" in favour of boosting jobs and growth. "The single biggest inhibitor of demand is lack of confidence. If only some of the people in this room would invest some of the cash in their balance sheets we would see that confidence rewarded in a virtuous circle."

Johnson carefully moderated his criticisms by ostensibly directing them at the Bank of England, saying:

"There is huge potential in the UK. It is important we have the spirit of confidence. Some of the mutterings from Threadneedle Street are not the stuff to give the troops. We need investment in housing and transport, things that make a big difference."

While he supported Osborne's deficit-reduction plan, Johnson said he wanted more investment in growth-boosting infrastructure measures. He added that "the hair-shirt, Stafford Cripps agenda is not the way to get Britain moving again".

In the near future, the Guardian reports, Johnson's new economic adviser Gerard Lyons will publish the Mayor's "seven-point plan" for London, which includes building a new airport and hundreds of thousands of homes, as well as investing in transport infrastructure. 

Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty

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.

All photos: India Bourke
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“They cut, we bleed”: activists Sisters Uncut protest closures of women's services

 “Our blood should not pay for our rape.”

Over 500 domestic violence survivors and support workers processed through central London this weekend. The protest, staged by the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut, mourned the women’s services that are losing out as a result of the government's austerity drive.

Since November 2014 the group has occupied streets, burned copies of the Daily Mail, and hijacked the Suffragette film premiere. But on Saturday the mood was somber. In Soho Square the group staged a symbolic funeral service. Attendees stood in a protective circle, fists raised, while members took turns to read out the names of the scores of women who’ve been killed by men in the past year:  “Anne Dunkley, 67; Nadia Khan, 24; Lisa Anthony, 47…”. The youngest was just 14 years old.

The service culminated in a promise “to never forget” the dead, and also to protect the living: “We must love and support one another; we have nothing to lose but our chains".

As the protestors passed St Martins in the Fields Church, dressed in black veils and funeral attire, the crowd of passers-by broke into spontaneous applause. “It gave me goosebumps”, Caroline, an activist and former victim of abuse told me. “You expect people on the march to be supportive but not the people on the street. I’ve been on other marches and people normally complain about you being selfish and blocking up the streets but this response makes you feel like people do  care.”

The show of public support is especially welcome in the aftermath of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Cuts to local authority budgets have already led to the closure of over 30 domestic violence services since 2010, including Eaves, a charity that provided services for single, low-income and vulnerable women.

Further erosions to local council budgets will only put more services and lives at risk, activists say. Also of concern is Osborne’s decision to devolve responsibility for raising a social care tax (of up to 2 per cent on council tax) to local authorities. This tips hostility to tax increases away from central government to local authorities, and could place greater pressure on women’s services to compete for funding.

The Chancellor offered a supposed silver lining to the cuts with the promise that VAT money raised from the EU’s compulsory tax on sanitary products will be ringfenced for women’s charities, such as the Eve Appeal and Women’s Aid.

The implication, however, that only women are to pay for helping the victims of domestic violence was met with derision from Sisters Uncut. As the marchers approached their final destination in Trafalgar Square, red dye turned the square’s famous fountains the colour of blood. “This blood won’t wash the blood from Osborne’s hands,” read one tampon-draped banner; “Our blood should not pay for our rape”, read another.

For those on the march, the cuts are an affront on many levels. All those I spoke to worked in some form of public service; everything from housing to foster care. But some have had to move out of the women’s services sector for the lack of funding.

Louisa used to work for a domestic violence service in London until it was forced to close last month. “I’m here because I’ve witnessed first hand what the cuts are doing to women and how much the organisations are having to squeeze what they can provide.”

All public services have legitimate claims to support - from the 14-strong police team that escorted the marchers, to the sweepers who were left to dredge the protesters’ roses out of the fountains and brush away the tampons that had fallen from their banners.

The danger, however, according to Caroline, is that the needs of domestic violence victims are all too easy to sideline: “This is by its nature something that goes on behind closed doors,” she says. As funding tightens, these voices musn’t be squeezed out.

Sisters Uncut is an intersectional group open to all who identify as women. The national domestic violence helpline offers help and support on 0808 2000 247. Members of the LGBT communities can also access tailored support from Broken Rainbow on 0800 9995428.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.