The Budget showed that, for the Conservatives, the problem facing the country is one of government rather than of the market. The Tories believe that the problem lies with the state, the size of which should be reduced, and not with the banks which collapsed.
That much is clear from how the burden of the Budget will fall: of the £40bn additional fiscal tightening being proposed, it looks as though £13bn will be achieved by raising VAT and £11bn by an attack on welfare. In contrast, £2bn is being raised by the banking levy. This reveals the priorities of this Conservative-led coalition.
The burden of the changes introduced will fall particularly heavily on the poorest and on working people more generally. The Chancellor said that he had a choice between raising income tax or VAT. About £1 of every £7 that poor people spend goes on VAT, while for the rich, the figure is about £1 in every £25. It is highly regressive and that it was increased reflects the right-wing agenda being elaborated by this government.
People have reason to fear other elements of the Budget. It was Margaret Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren. Now this government will take money from poorer mothers.
According to the TUC, the announcements made show that poorer mothers will lose about £1,200 a year. This may not affect the 22 millionaires sitting around the cabinet, but it can make a difference to many children and families. Whatever my differences with them, I do not believe people joined the Liberal Democrat party to attack poorer mothers, but that is what this Budget does.
It would not be my priority at this time to go for further fiscal tightening, given the fragility of the economy and the lack of demand elsewhere in the world. This view has been expressed by others, including President Barack Obama in his letter to the G20. The chief economist at KPMG, Andrew Smith, has described the Budget as a “kill or cure” plan, and went on to say:
The aim is to eliminate the structural deficit over this parliament, but it risks choking off the recovery. There is no guarantee that private demand will rebound just because the government retrenches.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, asked how hard it could be to understand that governments can save economies rather than destroy them. Yet, as he said: “politicians seem determined to do the reverse. They’re eager to short-change the economy when it needs help.”
We are taking a huge risk with the future of our economy. Two million private-sector employees work for companies that are dependent on government contracts. Further damage will inevitably be done to the private sector by cuts aimed at the public sector.
When we look at the performance of the private sector, we see that it, rather than the public sector, has brought about the reduction in GDP, especially in investment. People may not like to use the word, but if there is a strike going on at the moment: an investment strike in the private sector. We can understand why it happened, but nonetheless, £6 of every £10 of the reduction in GDP is down to the decline in private-sector investment.
It is not clear to me how cuts now will suddenly lead to growth in private-sector investment. Furthermore, the Budget shows a decline in public-sector investment from £47bn in 2008-2009 to £21bn by 2014.
The underlying economic philosophy of the Budget is that, by reducing the state, the private sector will flourish. The reverse is true, as we know from J M Keynes and from what happened in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Roosevelt’s New Deal rebuilt the American infrastructure and economy. The private sector was able to revive through expenditure, not cuts.
The May election gave no legitimacy for the course the government has set. Inevitably, there will be resistance both in parliament and outside. It is for the Labour Party to reflect carefully on how we respond. It will want to react responsibly, but we should place ourselves alongside people and communities who are resisting the cuts.
Jon Trickett is the Labour Party MP for Hemsworth.