Posts Tagged ‘austerity’

Sunday review: The election of Francois Hollande

13/05/2012, 07:00:53 AM

by Anthony Painter

Last Sunday, France elected a technocratic centrist. He tips slightly to the left of the centrist band but not far. He’ll shift the debate at the EU level about emphasising growth but expect incremental rather than seismic change. He’s really just a French version of Mario Monti only with a democratic mandate. The problem is that it is not at all clear that is who the French thought they were electing. They think they voted against austerity but they did anything but.

Hollande’s election slogan was ‘le change, c’est maintenant.’ More accurately, it will largely be a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – domestically at least. Hollande’s fiscal consolidation plans track Sarkozy’s for the first year then deviate slightly, returning the French budget to fiscal balance a year later. The major flaw in his economic programme is the lack of any determination to reform France’s labour markets. It has some of the heaviest regulation and highest unit costs in the EU. The best performers in Europe on unemployment are those with moderate regulation (lightly regulated countries such as the UK perform less well than the moderate group). France’s regulation is a drag on growth and employment – as is that of Spain – but these are structural concerns whereas there is an immediate issue with demand.

Overall though, his plans are largely sensible. He plans to cut small business tax, enable the state to employ the young unemployed and create a national investment bank. He intends to decentralise the French state. Any European moderate will be completely relaxed about all of this – indeed, they would applaud it. The problem was not in the programme, it was in the rhetoric. On Sunday, Hollande declared:

“In all the capitals… there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us, and want to reject austerity.”

The simple fact is that austerity has become defined in a very broad manner across the EU. It now basically means public spending cuts and tax increases. The bar is set very low and this narrows room for political manoeuvre. Europe’s voters (including in the UK) are being told by political leaders on the left that the choice is either growth or austerity. Would you like to chew on mud or munch a tarte tatin? I’ll have the tarte tatin please.

The problem is that, unfortunately, in this convulsive and volatile world, someone has sprinkled the tarte tatin with mud. And we’re very hungry. What to do?

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Smart people learn from their enemies

23/01/2012, 02:00:55 PM

by Rob Marchant

The furore over last week’s defection of former Labour staffer, Luke Bozier, to the Tories provides a convenient excuse for a closer look at the party that he has just joined. Not with a view to doing the same, you understand – it’d be a cold day in hell for most of us – but with a view to a bit of hard-nosed, non-partisan analysis.

Leafing through Alan Clark’s idiosyncratic history of his party, The Tories, there are some interesting lessons for Labour. Not ideologically, of course: but about the nature of politics, and the nature of power. And power is something which the Tories were uncommonly good at securing and retaining during the period of the book, from their successful defenestration of Lloyd George in 1922 through to their rout in 1997. Indeed, during this period, as Clark points out:

“…the Conservative Party was the dominant political force in Britain – even when, for short periods, it was in Opposition”.

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Sunday review: The autumn financial statement and “In the black Labour” by Graeme Cooke, Adam Lent, Anthony Painter and Hopi Sen

04/12/2011, 02:20:54 PM

by Anthony Painter

There’s no hiding place. The autumn financial statement outlined in full the dire economic situation that this country will face for much of this decade. Squeezed living standards, high borrowing, cuts in public services and the shrinking of the welfare state, ongoing uncertainty, and high unemployment will define the 2010s: the austerity decade. What’s worse is that all of the risks are on the downside.

George Osborne has made the situation worse – unnecessarily so. Cutting short term programmes and investments such as the future jobs fund and building schools for the future which don’t add to the structural deficit was myopic. Once his model of economic recovery – driven by exports and private sector investment – was faltering early this year he should have intervened. He didn’t and that has made things worse. We are all paying a price as a consequence.

The choreographed dance so far this parliament has been for the Tory-Lib Dem government to blame the last Labour government for all our economic ills. And for Labour to blame the government austerity. The reality is far more complex. The government bears some, but by no means all, of the blame: a strong stance on fiscal consolidation has reduced the risk of government debt in the eyes of investors; world oil prices and food prices that have increased by 30% in a year have also been a drag on growth; eurozone crisis is starting to be a drag on confidence and demand; but an early and inflexible fiscal consolidation, especially the VAT increase, has made matters worse.

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Government transparency in the age of austerity? I won’t hold my breath, says Vincent Moss

19/08/2010, 03:00:44 PM

Something strange is going on in Downing Street. Workers are removing “Tony Blair’s mirrored gym”, ripping down a wall and installing a lavish new kitchen, we are told, in the flat above Number 11 – the London home of David Cameron and his family. Meanwhile, the Camerons are enjoying the first week of their holiday at the PM’s country retreat Chequers, with its tennis court, heated pool, and staff to attend to their every need on the 1,000-acre estate.

 That’s a bit odd too, given Downing Street initially led the media to believe they’d be in Cornwall this week. But does any of this really matter when up to 500,000 public sector workers are facing the sack in the tightest spending squeeze in living memory with every pound of the public finances under scrutiny? Yes, it does.  As chancellor George Osborne (who has the run of the croquet set at his country residence of Dorneywood) keeps telling us: “We are all in this together”. 

Both men are making far greater use of these pads, more suited to rock stars than to servants of the people, than their Labour predecessors.   And, while the residences are funded via charitable trusts and not taxpayers’ cash, Cameron’s and Osborne’s growing fondness for their new homes sits uncomfortably with their rhetoric about austerity Britain.

When it comes to the Camerons’ flat above No11, the media were initially told that the family would be shelling out for all the work in the building.   According to the Sunday Telegraph, it now looks like they may only pay any costs above £28,000. We’re also told the main Downing Street kitchen is also getting a major makeover.  Is that a top priority in these difficult times?  How much is that costing? Only days ago, communities secretary Eric Pickles courageously revealed details of all the spending Labour made over £500 in his new department during Gordon Brown’s last year in power.  Pickles insisted this was all in the need of greater openness and transparency and challenged other Whitehall departments to do the same.  “This department, like the rest of Whitehall, needs to look at where every penny is going and getting this data out in the open will help that process,” maintained Pickles.  Although I’m not sure the edict has yet extended to the chauffeur-driven Jaguar that Pickles reportedly enjoys courtesy of the taxpayer.  

It’s a similar story when it comes to the cash being poured into the revamp in Downing Street.   Digging around for a bit of Pickles-style “transparency”, I find Labour Uncut’s guest editor Tom Watson has already fired in questions in the hope of some clarity.  So far, nothing has emerged.  Why?  Haven’t they got the Pickles memo yet? If we really are all in this together, Cameron and his ministers should be leading by example.  He should start by publishing all the spending on the renovations on his taxpayer-funded Downing Street flat.  And then, he should insist that all Whitehall departments publish all their costs over £500 on a quarterly basis. I won’t hold my breath.

Vincent Moss is political editor of the Sunday Mirror Group

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