The weaker and more divided the cabinet gets, the more the Tory right goes on the rampage, writes Alex Callinicos
The wheels are coming off the coalition government with astonishing speed. The basic reason is objective. It is behind on its target of reducing the budget deficit, despite this being the supposed reason for the coalition’s existence. At the same time the economy is shrinking.
There have been desperate efforts to demonstrate that the recession has nothing to do with austerity. These are not helped by a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report saying that attempts to reduce government debt by cutting public spending can damage economic growth.
Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times, was quick to rubbish the IMF report. He quotes the conclusion of one study, “The hoped-for rebalancing of the economy to investment and exports has failed to materialise, and this accounts for the weakness relative to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s 2010 forecasts.”
Giles argues that poor investment and exports have nothing to do with austerity. But this is nonsense.
Chancellor George Osborne’s strategy was to cut public spending in order to liberate a private sector supposedly smothered by a bloated state. Once freed it would boost growth by exporting.
As the IMF warned two years ago and repeats now, this might work if one country pursues austerity and everywhere else is growing.
But if every state adopts austerity and tries to expand through exporting, the result is too many goods competing in a shrinking international market. And that is the situation we find in Europe today.
The coalition’s economic failure is being overwhelmed by the astonishing collapse in its reputation. Scottish first minister Alex Salmond summed it up last weekend when he called the government a “bunch of incompetent Lord Snootys”.
The two incidents that have crystallised this view of the government are trivial. Andrew Mitchell was forced to resign as chief whip for swearing at the police guarding 10 Downing Street.
It’s interesting that it seems to have been a combination of the Police Federation and Tory backbenchers that drove him out. And it’s amusing to note that he has been replaced by an even posher figure—the baronet Sir George Young.
Osborne’s embarrassment on trying to travel first class on a standard class train ticket was more like an episode of The?Thick Of It—especially the media circus that lay in wait for him when he arrived at London Euston.
“Plebs”—the word that Mitchell has denied calling the Downing Street cops—has become a symbol of the privilege and arrogance of the coalition. A word with a fine radical history, it figured proudly on many handmade placards in last Saturday’s TUC march.
Norman Tebbit, speaking on behalf of the Thatcherite undead, complained in Sunday’s Observer: “Past governments have had far more real Tory toffs: prime ministers Alec Douglas-Home and Harold Macmillan, or even in Thatcher’s day, Whitelaw, Soames, Hailsham, Carrington, Gowrie, Joseph, Avon, Trenchard and plenty more, without incurring similar abuse.”
The difference is that, under Thatcher at least, they weren’t running the show. Part of her success lay in presenting herself as the embodiment of the aspiring, hardworking lower middle class thrusting aside the decadent toffs.
Now the Lord Snootys are back in charge, at a moment when the economic crisis is causing widespread suffering. David Cameron’s attempt at the Tory party conference that to deny that he represents privilege was laughable.
Tebbit’s denunciation of “this dog of a coalition government” indicates the depth of Cameron’s problems. The weaker and more divided the cabinet gets, and the deeper in the mess in the eurozone, the more the Tory right goes on the rampage.
Cameron has made concession after to concession to them. He is on the verge of promising them a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. That is not a clever move when Ukip is ahead of the Lib Dems in some polls.
To repeat what I’ve said before—this government is there for the taking. The real fight is to get the labour movement to seize the time and destroy this vicious but enfeebled enemy.