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Wednesday, June 26, 2013 

Failure as success.

Very, very occasionally, the BBC doesn't just report the news, it also provides analysis that is all the more hard-hitting because of its rarity.  Of all the comment on today's spending review, Stephanie Flanders' verdict is the most acute. The coalition was formed to eliminate the deficit in a single parliament; today George Osborne set out the cuts to come in 2015-16, and there will be more right up until 2018. By any measure, the coalition has failed abysmally. Except, as Flanders points out, this is also a great success for the Tory right. No one voted for the scale of cuts that have already been made, and yet there has been almost no real protest at the slashing back of the state. Moreover, Labour under the shadow chancellorship of supposed arch deficit denier Ed Balls has signed up to Osborne's overall spending plans, if not the exact details. What was it that Margaret Thatcher described as her greatest achievement? New Labour, wasn't it?

It isn't really worth dealing with much of Osborne's speech then, as we'd heard almost all of it before. We're all in this together, we're moving from intensive care to recovery, despite Osborne having told us we were out of the danger zone two years ago, the most broad shouldered bearing the greatest burden, which is only true when you include the changes Osborne inherited from Alistair Darling. As ever, those who demand responsibility took none themselves: it's not because of austerity or the prospect of austerity that the economy has barely grew since the coalition was formed, oh no, it's all the fault of the banking crisis, the euro crisis and the oil crisis, which is a new one on me.  It doesn't matter that even the IMF has said it's time to loosen austerity, or that they've admitted they underestimated the effect cutting spending would have, Osborne knows better and just plows on.

The same familiar targets are then those to be squeezed.  Another 140,000 jobs to go in the public sector, an end to automatic "progression pay", although many claim they haven't had any increase in years, and another year of 1% pay increases for everyone else.  Then there's "skivers", half of whom will now be required to sign on every week, they won't be able to claim JSA until 7 days after losing a job instead of the current 3, and they'll also have to have a CV.  It doesn't matter if they've just lost a long-term position and so may need help putting together a new one, until they've done that they're to be left penniless.  The obvious beneficiaries?  Those lovely pay day loan companies, about the only growth industry we have under Osborne's glorious stewardship.

As for the much hyped cap on social security spending, it's not clear what it's going to amount to in practice.  There aren't going to be any consequences if it's breached, merely the chancellor will be required to explain why it has.  Presumably the intention is to put pressure on officials to limit benefits, but how this is going to work when housing benefit and tax credits keep increasing exponentially precisely because millions of people in work aren't paid enough to live on isn't explained.

If you're rather perturbed to say the least about how very different this country is going to look come 2015 as a direct result of these failures, then your options for dissent are now rather limited.  What exactly is the point of an opposition that doesn't oppose but agrees?  For months we heard of how Osborne was setting Labour a trap through the spending review, demanding whether or not they would sign up to the overall spending package.  The answer from the two Eds was to walk straight into it, the equivalent of shooting yourself in the head when someone's threatening you with a machete.  It was meant to show that Labour could again be trusted with the economy, but has it had any impact or will it make any difference when the election is still two years away?  Has it heck as like.

Then again, it seems that the vast majority of the public are more than prepared to accept that there is no alternative.  And why wouldn't they?  When the main three parties say there isn't one, and the new fourth one says the answer is to leave the EU, why should we be surprised there's no equivalent mass movement against austerity here as there has been in countries on the continent?  Instead of offering resistance, or failing that, a vision of a better tomorrow, those who formerly advised politicians now suggest that they stop making promises all together.  Why not go the whole way and replace elected representatives with speak your weight machines?  At least they'll never tell lies or make pledges they won't keep or have any intention of keeping.

Nor has there been major opposition from the young precisely because the groups supposedly aligned against the cuts are so woefully led, or rather, aren't led.  Leaders seem to be regarded as 20th century; when absolutely everyone has a voice, or rather a Twitter account, we don't need anything like that, we just need a wi-fi connection.  UK Uncut might have helped changed the debate on tax avoidance, but it was people themselves that shamed Starbucks into paying corporation tax.  As for the other two groups named by John Harris in his piece that notices not all of the young are angry lefties, I'd never even heard of People and Planet before, while UK Feminista are currently campaigning against, err, lads' mags.  In the era of Snapchat and Redtube can you imagine the blow that will be struck against the establishment and the patriarchy if Tesco stops stocking Zoo magazine?  Harris also mentions Owen Jones and Laurie Penny, but to my knowledge Penny hasn't so much as been invited onto Question Time.  Russell Brand has, though.

Unlike I suspect most people my age, I've voted in every election since turned 18.  I spoilt my ballot in the police commissioner elections last year, but I still turned out.  My argument has always been that it doesn't matter who you vote for, as long as you do.  Not voting when on occasion even a single vote can have an impact is to be voiceless.  Come 2015, I'm not sure there now is a point in bothering to put an x in the box.  Regardless of who you vote for, it will be a vote for further austerity, for a state slashed back, for the continued blaming of the unemployed for being out of work even when there aren't enough jobs to go round and for the continued processing of the sick and disabled.  Incidentally, one of the few areas of the state to get an increase in funding rather than a cut is the intelligence agencies.  Not because the terrorist threat has increased, as it hasn't, with not even Woolwich resulting in an increase in the threat level.  No, clearly the government is anticipating an upsurge in activity elsewhere.  It hasn't happened yet, but a few more years of this, and who knows? Something must break.

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