Austerity isn’t over – but it needs to be

Labour is right to say that Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over is a con, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

THIS week’s figures from the International Monetary Fund were further damning evidence that the Tories’ eight years of austerity have failed and that Britain needs a fundamental change in our entire economic model.

Specifically, the IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor report has shown that the UK’s public finances are close to the worst of major developed countries, showing that even on its own terms — even before taking into account the human misery it has caused for millions and the continuing spending cuts that are pushing our public services more and more into crisis — that austerity has been an abject failure.

As shadow chancellor John McDonnell put it in his response, “The worst spending cuts for generations and the privatisation of public assets has seen the government sink deeper and deeper into the red, even as living standards decline and public services crumble.”

Alongside this, the latest monthly GDP figures released further confirmed that the economy continues to underperform under the Tories, with growth below its historical trend and real wages still below their 2010 levels, and we have also seen the release of another piece of new research and analysis showing that Britain’s recovery is slower than the US was during the Great Depression.

Theresa May’s recent speech at Conservative Party Conference, and her opinion piece soon afterwards in the Observer, have been spun by some as showing that austerity will soon end, but within days Tory chairman Brandon Lewis on the Marr Show confirmed that austerity is very much here to stay.

Also seemingly here to stay are the massive tax breaks to big business and the super-rich that have accompanied the running down of local government funding and our vital public services.

As McDonnell said in response to May’s speech, if the Prime Minister wants to back up her words with action, Philip Hammond would announce that the further austerity cuts scheduled for the next four years will be cancelled.

Yet the reality is that our schools, councils, welfare system and health service are in crisis but, despite all the media spin, the Tories are refusing to say that they will cancel their planned cuts.

As Jeremy Corbyn said in Prime Minister’s Question Time this week, “eight years of painful austerity” mean that “poverty is up. Homelessness and deaths on our streets are up. Living standards [are] down, public services [have been] slashed and a million elderly are not getting the care they need.”

If these cuts are not cancelled the simple truth is that the government is about to usher in some of the most brutal cuts yet and the damage to our economy, living standards and public services will be severe and felt for decades to come.

Corbyn said: “The Prime Minister declared she is ending austerity, but unless the budget halts the cuts, increases funding to public services, gives our public servants a decent pay rise, then isn’t the claim that austerity is over simply a great big Conservative con?”

This is made all the worse by the fact that austerity is not an economic necessity, but a political choice, driven by increasingly discredited neoliberal ideology.

Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has hammered this point home, and more and more parts of society both understand this and the need to end austerity.

The Chancellor could use the forthcoming Budget to end the failure of austerity and repair the damage done to our schools, hospitals and local communities, but the reality is that all we can expect is more of the same.

As long as Britain has a Conservative prime minister, we won’t see an end to austerity, and the Tories have run out of new ideas to improve living standards and public services for the majority of people.

We need a Corbyn-led Labour government that will not only end austerity but call time on our failed economic model.

The time has come to deliver £250 billion of investment across the whole country to create jobs and transform our economy for the many, not the few, alongside a real industrial strategy. In other words, the time has come for real and radical change.

First published by the Morning Star.