Ed Miliband should focus on public service spending. Photo: Getty
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Referring to 1930s public spending won't help Miliband: here are three charts that will

5 per cent doesn't sound a lot.

I don’t know who is advising Ed Miliband but "public spending back to 1930s levels" wasn’t a good line.

It’s true that the Conservatives' proposed cuts take public spending to its lowest percentage of GDP since the ONS records began but it has been at similar levels in the recent past, notably under Tony Blair in 2000.

Inevitably, therefore, people would say “Well it was like that under your lot and the world didn’t fall apart.” That’s pretty much what Robert Peston skewered him with in an interview yesterday and what John Rentoul was tweeting all afternoon.

But quoting overall  levels of spending to GDP misses the point. It was a very different world in 2000. Nowadays we have pressures on public spending that didn’t exist back then. Increasing pensioner benefit costs, state-funded low wage jobs and subsidised housing leave us with a seemingly intractable social security bill. That and the rising public debt payments eat up a lot of our public spending, so, without tax increases, the cost of deficit reduction must fall on public services. (For some detail behind this see here and here.)

The result is that a 4.7 percent real-terms cut in overall spending since 2010 becomes a 25 percent cut in public service spending. Take out capital spending and look at day-to-day service spending and the cut rises to 27 percent. But the population is rising too so that translates to 31 percent per capita. Because some departments are protected and have their budgets maintained, everything that isn’t health or education faces cuts of around 57 percent. An overall cut of just under 5 percent therefore gets amplified because of other spending pressures.

That might be a bit too complex a message to reduce to political soundbites but three charts from the OBR report last week make the government’s plans very clear.

1. Public service spending falls to its lowest level since 1938

The ONS record only go back to 1948 but the Bank of England’s measure of government consumption, a rough proxy for public service spending, goes back further. This shows overall public service spending falling to a share of GDP last seen in 1938.

This is the opposition’s 1930s message. It’s not public spending, it’s publicservice spending that falls to 1930s levels

2. Day to day public service spending falls to its lowest level since records began 

The ONS records don’t go back far enough to find a time when day-to-day spending was at 12.6 percent of GDP. This amounts to real-terms per capita cuts of a third at a time when an ageing population means the number of people needing help from the state is increasing.
 

3. Spending on everything outside health and education is cut by more than half

Because health and education are protected (and international aid but that’s piddling), real-terms per-capita cuts to everything else are close to 60 percent.

That includes defence and policing (to worry the traditional conservatives) and social services (to worry the lefties).

It’s clear from this that a lot of local government services will simply cease to exist.

No wonder, then, that the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire is warning that his force will fall apart within the next few years.

And that’s pretty much it. Ed Miliband shouldn’t get into discussions about overall public spending because it doesn’t look as if it falls by very much (5 percent doesn’t sound a lot) and it was at similar levels relative to GDP when his lot were in power. He should, instead, focus on the threat to public services.

Last week, George Osborne was rattled by comments from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and, by implication, the forecasts of the OBR. He will probably be less rattled by Ed Miliband’s speech.

Simply by stating the implications of his plans, impartial (or as near is it gets) technocrats are landing stronger punches on the Chancellor than the leader of the opposition. If Ed Miliband is to have a hope of winning the election, he needs to make his punching sharper.

Update: Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Ed Miliband did say 1930s public services spending at one point in this speech but it then gets muddied by references just to 1930s public spending. He also didn’t make the distinction when Robert Peston questioned him on it.

 

This article was originally published on the blog Flip Chart Fairy Tales, written by @FlipChartRick 

Flip Chart Rick is the author of the Flip Chart Fairy Tales blog

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.