Anthony Painter sees life’s winners making losers by the million

Spending cuts at this rate are unnecessary. Everyone who isn’t a Machiavellian Osborne-ite or an ethically empty Liberal Democrat frontbencher knows that. These strutting macho men (and Teresa May and the other one in Defra) in their 40s are ripping apart the ties that bind and the life chances of millions. They gleefully gamble on growth because they always have been and always will be winners, no matter what the level of unemployment. At least now there is no doubt where these self-imagined Flashmans are coming from.

It’s one thing to take to hack away at the roots of the good society with cockiness and bravado. It’s another to dissemble, dodge, and mislead every step of the way. They know what they are doing. They are sure they are right- when are they anything but right?

So why not tell it straight? This spending review document takes spin into a new stratosphere. New Labour? Communications amateurs. These guys are something else.

You don’t have to delve very deep into the document before you discover all the tricks of presentation that the modern politician has at their disposal. By the second page of the executive summary we are told that the UK is to remain a world leader in science despite only maintaining the cash budget over the next four years. I’ll remove your leg but in cash terms you’ll still have two. Sure Start the same: maintained in cash terms. Perhaps Gideon would be willing to exchange his trust fund for its 1950 cash value? It’s the same after all.

Then there is the basic technique of assertion. You provide all the evidence to the contrary then you just assert that the opposite is the case. So you say that 16-18 participation is going to increase. You’ve given speeches on social mobility after all. Presumably the social mobility of Marylebone to St John’s Wood is the social mobility you have in mind as there’s little else that may aid social mobility in this spending review. You are cutting educational maintenance allowances. Diverting some resources to the least well off but cutting expenditure for the rest. And where are these newly participating 16-18 year olds going to go? You’ve replaced a school building programme for 700 schools immediately for 600 over four years and you’ve decimated the capital investment programme for colleges. So the claim that participation will be increased is simply assertion with all evidence to the contrary.

Then there is the brutal cut presented as a generous investment. This technique is deployed with reference to social housing thus:

“Taken together with continuing, but more modest, capital investment in social housing, this will allow the Government to deliver up to 150,000 new affordable homes over the Spending Review period.”

So the investment is continuing, people. Woop. Celebrate good times. Wait. Hold on. What’s that more modest bit? It’s actually a 60% cut. Oh and there’s massive need for social housing- 1.7 million on local authority waiting lists, benefits are going to be cut so there will be even greater need, and the new nimby planning regime will bring development to a shuddering halt thus making public investment even more critical. Oh well. It’s not people like us. This government seems to have a very loose grip on the laws of supply and demand for a bunch of neo-liberals.

Having mocked us with fragrant distortion of basic meaning and plain dishonesty or stupidity or both, the Tory-Lib Dem government then adopts a lighter note for the remainder of the review. Sure, there are cuts announced that are likely to make even Lord Tebbit wince, but you don’t have to worry about that. Appreciate the comedy instead. It’s gallows humour but we Brits like that, don’t we?

Take the equalities impact assessment on p31. It’s on a par with The Day Today as a satire on our times. It’s nice that it mentions women, ethnic minorities and the disabled. It’s hardly the sermon on the mount though. More accurately, it’s an almost random assessment of the equalities impact of the review. It’ll do – will keep the equalities lobby quiet and their lawyers at bay. Job done.

And just when you thought that you couldn’t be patronised any further, along comes the king of all practical jokes on p95 of the report. It’s the public accounts version of Jack Ass. It shows – incontrovertibly – how fair the review is. You may have heard the IFS saying that any progressive smidgen in these plans came from policies adopted from the last government. Ignore those IFS charlatans – mendacious socialists that they are. For this wonderful bar chart shows how it is, in fact, the upper quintile who stand to lose the most. They will lose a higher proportion of their benefits in kind than the poorest quintile. Funny that – I wonder if that may be as a result of the wealthiest consuming fewer public services than the least wealthy? Perhaps, but ignore that. Don’t let the facts divert you. It’s fair, I tell you.

So that’s it. We finally have the spending review. And it’s nothing like we were expecting. It’s far worse. On top of its needlessly severe attack on the weakest, the voiceless, and all of us who rely on public services and investment, the Tory-Lib Dem government has chosen to insult us also. Salt in the wounds? You bet. And the wound is a deep cut indeed. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne will flash knowing and self-satisfied smiles at one other tonight; just as they finish the final drop of Coalition Krug. Job well done.

Anthony Painter

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