Con-Dem cuts – the cloak of the deficit

David Cameron’s speech on cutting the deficit was a softening-up exercise, in preparation for harsh times ahead and for an unprecedented scaling-down of the public sector. And, on this measure or preparedness, he did a very good job.

The necessity to cut – and to cut hard, harder than ever before – is now the prism through which all political decisions are being viewed and judged. Cameron – ably supported by Clegg and his mercenaries – has carefully nurtured in the public mind, the sense that we simply cannot go on like this.

While we all get the need for a shake-up, this presents a real risk that, given the generous mood of the media, an unquestioning acceptance of this logic emerges: the public sector is over-blown, we have a big deficit, therefore everything on the public spending tree is ripe for a brutal prune.

This is a dangerous hop-skip-jump: from identifying waste, to trimming expenditure, to what is fast-becoming an attack on the public sector as a whole. It is motivated as much, if not more, by ideology and by a long-held Conservative (and, apparently, a Liberal Democrat) belief in a small state, than it is by deficit reduction.

One section of his speech yesterday was unsettling, particularly for those, like me, who are of the view that alot of what the public sector does is much-needed and endlessly challenging. Here Cameron fell back on the hackneyed (and deeply flawed) contention which crudely and thoughtlessly runs: ‘public sector bad, private sector good’. This is a snippet what he said:

“…while the private sector of the economy was shrinking, the public sector was continuing its inexorable expansion. While everyday life was incredibly tough for people who didn’t work in the public sector…with job losses, pay cuts, reduced working and falling profits…for those in the public sector, life went on much as before”.

You don’t need to be an expert in semantics to see what Cameron is driving at. I don’t want to downplay the recession, but his picture of unrelenting gloom for the private sector is a falsehood (I could name a few businesses who have made a mint). His ‘inexorable expansion’ shows how the Tories still resist a truism of economics – that when the private sector shrinks (i.e. a recession) then Governments have to act (spend) to stimulate growth. At heart, the Tories still subscribe to the ‘if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working’ theory of economic management.

What really appals though, is the implicit message that the public sector contributes next to nothing to the public good – according to Cameron it just expands and continues ‘much as before’. This is a deliberate slight. Think of a social worker dealing with a child protection case; a police officer confronting a violent offender; a nurse caring a patient back to health. Difficult work, David, worthy of respect? Or work to be belittled and undermined? Where is the compassionate Conservatism now?

Look back to an interview Cameron gave in 2008 when he was fully immersed in his campaign to convince us the Conservative had changed. Read the words carefully.

“The point of modernising the Conservative Party was not so that we could then, under the cloak of respectability, introduce even bigger privatisation programmes….This modernisation wasn’t just so we could produce unpalatable rightwing policies and stuff them down the throats of the unsuspecting British public.”

Cameron reveals himself by protesting too much. Read his words again – to uncrack the code: delete ‘not’, exchange “respectability” for “the deficit”, swap “wasn’t” for “was”. His true colours revealed.

Here he donned the cloak of compassionate Conservatism to convince us his party has changed. His current trick is to use the cloak of the deficit to do the work he and his party have always dreamed of; finishing off the job Thatcher started.

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4 Comments

Filed under Cameron, Conservatives, Politics - general

4 responses to “Con-Dem cuts – the cloak of the deficit

  1. 2me2you

    Well said.

    The ‘evil’ public sector argument just does not wash. It almost suggests that public sector workers do not spend money in the regular economy – just sheer folly.

    The public sector are clearly being cast as villains by the Tories and their conspirators at papers like the Daily Mail (they’ll be carrying headlines suggesting we lynch public sector workers next…).

    Like you mention, and is quite obvious – when the private sector goes through a recession, good government rides the storm by making sure there is a relative boom in the public sector. After all we’re talking about the basic commodity that is jobs.

    Original ideas seem to be devoid of CleggCam, Gideon and the Mr Muscle Man, they are stealing the ideas of others. How long until a public sector pay cut is announced (Spain for example) and a decrease in pensions. It does after all seem fair enough that people who teach our kids, run our hospitals, clean our streets etc should pay the bill for the irresponsible private sector – who less we forget got us in this mess in the first place…(bankers esp!).

  2. Well said.

    When Cameron was first elected as Tory leader he said that what he wanted to do was cut the size of the state. People have forgotten that he is an ideological small-minded small-statist because at the time Hilton noticed that Cameron would do better in the polls if he hugged some hoodies and huskies.

    But equally so, Hilton has had 5 years to put together the narrative to make the public accept cutting the state. You can imagine how pleased he was when the sub-prime triggered recession started – now the Tories had the perfect smoke screen to cover their cuts to the state.

    (The Orange Book Lib Dems are also small-statists, but since they never thought they would be in power they could be even more radical in their plans to privatise the NHS than the Tories could ever admit to. It was the Orange Book, not the numbers of Labour MPs that killed any chance of a Lib-Lab pact.)

    The Tory propaganda has been building for 5 years, but now they are getting lazy, they are not being careful about their arguments because in those last 5 years the Press has largely been convinced that the public sector should be privatised.

    For example, in the Conservative manifesto there is a graph comparing the productivity of the “private services sector” with the “public sector”, which shows that the former increased by 20% over the last 10 years whereas the latter decreased by 4%.

    The figures are true, they are from the ONS. However, the graph is a lie because you cannot compare the “private services sector” with the “public sector”. Firstly, many public services do not have a measurable “output” to use in productivity calculations (how do you measure the “output” of the police? or, as you mention, a social worker?). Secondly, it is difficult to determine “inputs” in the calculation for the public sector, for example, in the NHS ONS include the huge costs of rebuilding the dilapidated NHS inherited from the Tories as an “input”. If you exclude that cost, the NHS has had huge increases in productivity over the last 10 years. Finally, the ONS figures for the “private services sector” is mostly the finance sector, whereas the public sector is mostly the NHS, so how can you compare the productivity of financial services with NHS hospitals? See, it is a lie, and no one in the Press felt they should point this out. 😦 (Answer me this, Mr Cameron, why didn’t you compare actual productivity of the private healthcare with the productivity of the NHS? Would it be because the NHS is more cost-effective, and more productive than private healthcare?)

    OK, now for the bad news. On my blog site (http://torylies.blogspot.com) I have gone through the various Tory health documents produced over the last 4 or 5 years. The message is very clear and very scary. Lansley’s plan is to turn the NHS into a commissioning-only organisation. At the moment PCTs commission NHS providers (and some private healthcare providers under the, ugh, horrible ISTC programme New Labour was so keen on). The Lansley plan is for the NHS Board (the new super quango) to force PCTs to commission more work from private providers (“an increasing proportion of contracts…”). Further, the “Big Society” will allow private providers to take over services from NHS providers (eg a private clinic will provide all the cataract operations in your area, and the cataract clinic in your local NHS hospital will close). Note that initially it will not be competitive tendering, Cameron, Lansley and Letwin have all said “if you think you can provide the service, we will invite you in”. Local people – you and me – will be given no opportunity to voice our opposition to this level of privatisation.

    The Lansley plan is to create a “healthcare market” with many new providers. Inevitably that will mean the closure of NHS hospitals. The Tory (and Orange Book Lib Dem) ideology is that the government should not be providing healthcare. The Orange Bookers want to introduce European-style health insurance, but the Tories recognise that that is a step too far: they will not get re-elected if they introduce that. So the Coalition compromise is the health market with the NHS as a commissioning-only (ie no NHS providers). Expect this to be in place before 2015. And, of course, it will be far too expensive for an incoming Labout government to nationalise those hospitals.

    Kiss goodbye to your local NHS hospital, it will not survive the ConDems.

  3. The Poll Pot

    Good Blog. The Tory claim to want to stimulate growth and yet cut jobs programmes smacks of complete ignorance of how the state can work best, in stimulating expansion in the private sector. The Tories seem to think that unless the private sector can do it off of it’s own backs, it doesn’t deserve to survive. The fools will shoot them in the foot in an effort to address their pathological fear, the deficit. Cue the Greece analogy, ad infinitum. Cameron’s ideological background is simple, as you say, state bad, private sector good. The state destroys society, the economy, education, and yet, lets be honest, its capitalism that has done this. By destroying the fabirc of industrial communities and not replacing them with anything as an adequate replacement.

    The growth of cheap capital, debt, has allowed the conditions that Labour assumed, to ruin the economy, and expand the deficit. The Tories are wrong at the base ideological level..

  4. helen

    Hi ,
    There is quite a groundswell of anger against this
    coalition.

    Can I draw your attention to-

    Thursday June 24th, Westminster
    Public meeting:

    No More Academies
    No “Free” schools
    DEFEND STATE EDUCATION

    Union Leaders Of NUT, NAS, ATL ,UNISON,
    speakers.
    For full details: http://www.antiacademies.org.uk

    Thanks
    ps great blog

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