Socialist Worker

Our anger can beat back the cosy consensus on cuts

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2170

Just over a year ago, the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank ushered in the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s.

Rightly, most people blamed the meltdown of the global financial system on neoliberal ideology – the deregulation pioneered by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government and extended by New Labour.

But in recent weeks the debate has shifted.

All three political parties and most of the national press have now reached a new consensus.

They say the crisis, which continues to threaten to destroy millions of jobs and working class lives, is being made worse by government “over-spending”.

The level of agreement is such that, rather from shying away from telling us what they would cut, politicians of all stripes are now engaged in bidding war to slash the most from our public services.

Cabinet ministers, who just weeks ago counterposed “Labour investment” to “Tory cuts”, are backtracking fast.

Ludicrously, education secretary Ed Balls this week announced he could hack £2 billion from his budget without harming a single child.

Andy Burnham, the health secretary, wants to make 20 billion cuts from the NHS – but he says patients are safe in his hands.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he wants “bold, even savage” cuts.

All of this allows the Tories to say, “Which do you prefer, the original or the copy?”

Nearly a million young people are languishing on the dole queues and the recession is still laying manufacturing industry to waste.

The idea that spiralling public spending is the most serious threat to the economy is a sick joke.

Many analysts warn that any reduction in spending now would risk deepening the recession. We need more jobs, not fewer. And the money for that kind of spending clearly exists.

The battle over spending should not be about what to cut – it should be about who should pay for the crisis.


Organising massive opposition to the spending slashers should have been the centrepiece of last week’s TUC trade union annual conference.

Instead, many union leaders – including Derek Simpson of Unite and Paul Kenny of the GMB – seemed paralysed by the possibility of a Tory victory at the next election.

They argued to continue to back Labour as the “least worst” option.

It was not a message that went down well.

“Most of those at the top don’t want action because they feel it would hurt Labour,” says Rachel Edwards from the PCS union.

“That ignores cuts happening now which are already devastating public services.”

Others, including Unison’s Dave Prentis, talked of the need to resist cuts from whichever party takes power in the future.

“It’s not just about a Labour government warning us that the Tories will cut spending. It’s about Labour convincing us that it will not do the same,” he told the TUC.

But fighting the cuts takes more than words.

Both sets of union leaders need to get behind those who are already doing the fighting .

Millions of people remember the decimation wrought by Margaret Thatcher’s attacks in the 1980s. Millions more rely on public services and know what it will mean if spending is slashed.

By tapping their anger we can beat back the cuts consensus.

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Tue 22 Sep 2009, 18:28 BST
Issue No. 2170
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