The War on Jobs 5: The Spending Review – “Carefully crafted brutality”

Posted: October 22, 2010 in Current affairs, The economy

So there we have it.  After months of speculation, CamClegg Inc has revealed the details of the Comprehensive Spending Review and would you believe it? The proposed cuts will hit the poorest and the public sector hardest, with half a million workers likely to lose their jobs in the next four years.  It was what BBC journalist John Pienaar described as a piece of “carefully crafted brutality” (BBC Radio Five Live, 20 October). Interestingly, though, the BBC’s special spending review website doesn’t even headline the full extent of likely job losses; I had to dig a bit deeper for it until finding it on Nick Robinson’s blog.

This may be down to how well the government has spun the Review, breaking the proposed cuts down into small, digestible chunks.  Initially, Osborne preferred to outline annual rather than cumulative figures for job losses. But then along came the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Danny Alexander (Lib Dem) to “accidentally” reveal (leak) the four-year figure of 490,000 as estimated by the Office of Budget Responsibility.

The government could surely round it up to the half million mark without a sweat but they won’t because it’s psychological – like the pricing we see in shops: £19.99 rather than £20.  You have to wonder, though what’s going on behind the scenes at the Treasury? Was Alexander’s leak an act of subversion, a refusal to whitewash the true extent of these cuts? Or is it an Alexander-Osborne good cop-bad cop act? There are no clues yet of turmoil behind closed doors so I suspect it’s the latter.

I will leave in-depth analysis of the Review to the experts but surely it is not the solution to the national debt crisis? In fact, it may trigger the dreaded double-dip recession we’ve been warned about over and over. As pointed out on Irish television, the pound has declined, not bounced, on the currency markets since the review was announced (Primetime, RTE1, 21 October). If that turns into a long-term trend, the market speculators may craft some brutality of their own.

The truth is that, when it comes to cuts, this divide between public and private sectors is totally bogus. They are mutually dependent and that very dependence is crucial to economic growth. No growth, no confidence means no spending, no revenue.

So what is the government’s real agenda? Justifying the projected £80 billion cuts, the Secretary of Transport, Philip Hammond, repeated on television the propaganda line that there is “no alternative” because Britain has the highest national debt to GDP ratio among the G20 nations. He’s either lying to us or he doesn’t know his facts because Britain is actually mid-league table with Germany (about 65%), a good deal less indebted than Japan (over 200%) and the US (94%). In any case, comparisons like this are difficult to sustain and sometimes meaningless because debt levels have to be offset against a whole range of economic variables, nationally and globally. They certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse to lay waste to the Welfare state. No, as Polly Toynbee argues, what we’re witnessing is nothing less than an ideological project to shrink the welfare state for its own sake (Question Time, BBC1, 21 October) while presenting it as being in the national interest.

So against the backdrop of public protests, strikes and riots across Europe, we wait with bated breath to see how the stoic Brits will react to the review. And that’s where the idea of “carefully crafted brutality” comes into play because the true pain and damage they will eventually wreak on the economy and society will not be felt all at once or across all classes of society. Cam-Clegg Inc has been very careful to spin the cuts in advance to neutralise opposition from within and manipulate public expectations. Now it will calibrate the cuts so that they roll out bit by bit over a four year period in the hope that it will offset any possibility of concerted protest and class solidarity in the run up to the next election. If that happens, we’ll only see the wreckage when it’s far too late to put it right.





  1. Rabelais says:

    The most depressing thing about this is that it’s difficult to see what shape opposition to the cuts will take. Will it be the mealy-mouthed response of Labour? Do the trade unions have any lead left in their pencil or are they impotent? And are there any other forces that might be mustered?

    I’ve felt for a while now that it’s whacking-time. I don’t think doing the constitutional/parliamentary-thing is an option anymore. And I don’t think mere rhetoric and vocal criticism will rally anyone to the cause.

    And what will the Northern Ireland executives response be? Our two largest parties are well versed in insurrection and the politics of street protest. Is it time to draw upon those traditions?

  2. Dr. Disco says:

    Um… unless I’m having some kind of meltdown, caused by my cushy life in the private sector, the double dip recession has already happened.

  3. Dr. Disco says:

    George Osborne – ‘Look down the back of your sofas’

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