by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal
The defeat of the miners’ in June 1921 marked the end of the threat of massive industrial action. It opened the way for the government to indulge itself. With recession biting, tax revenues falling and debt rising, they doubled down on plan A – to cut, cut and cut again.
That’s Tory-Liberal coalitions for you
Now the miners had been seen off, the coalition turned to the housing problem. They decided there wasn’t one.
Existing homes were deemed already fit for heroes, and what is a “slum” anyway – just another word for ‘bijou housing with earthy charm,’ right? The massive housebuilding programme started in 1919 was abruptly stopped.
Oddly enough, as capital spending by the government was slashed, the recession just seemed to get deeper. Unemployment soared to top two million workless.
Hmm. Cuts applied, recession follows. What could the problem be?
“Squandermania,” according to the Daily Mail. This was much like “Beatlemania”, but instead of teenage girls screaming, it was Tories and the right wing press. Tales abounded of a wasteful public sector where staff lounged on golden sofas, snacking on government-funded caviar and sipping state champagne.
The owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere went even further. He founded a new political party who, apparently keen to sound like a posse of vigilante litter pickers, were called the Anti-Waste League. They even won three by-elections in 1921.
In February 1922, eager to close off the threat from this 1920s UKIP, the coalition unveiled the Geddes axe. This was not, unfortunately for everyone, a cute photo of a baby playing heavy metal guitar, but a powerful implement for hacking at the economy.
Sir Eric Geddes was the head of a committee of businessmen who had been tasked with securing government efficiencies. Efficiencies, in this case, being a long word for cuts.
Eric Geddes: “The pound in your pocket has not been devalued. You just don’t have as many of them. Sorry.”
The Geddes axe was swung with relish across all of public sector – in today’s money £100bn was cut.