The coalition’s new clothes

by David Seymour

One of the first rules of politics is that the big lie is the one you get away with. If you tell a little fib, bend the truth a bit, you will be savaged, mocked and denigrated, while the utterer of the breathtakingly dishonest outrage will escape unchallenged. Rather like the foolish citizens who were embarrassed to point out in the emperor’s new clothes that his majesty was actually walking around stark naked because they thought there must be something wrong with them not to be able to see his finery, no one wants to be the first to stand up and boldly proclaim that a monstrous untruth is just that.

The government’s big lie is that the cause of the historically large deficit is entirely due to Labour’s profligate spending on public services. That simply is not true, but almost no one is contradicting the Tories when they say it. And they say it all the time.

Not only ministers but backbenchers never miss an opportunity to utter the mantra that this is all Labour’s fault. How this big lie works is simple, as most big lies are. All that has to be done is to proclaim it with absolute certainty and ridicule anyone who dares to contradict. It is crucial for the big liar that serious analysis is avoided. So let’s analyse how we got this size of deficit.

It happened like this. The country faced a double crisis. One was the possible collapse of the banks, so £70 billion of public money was poured in to prop them up. Certainly, Labour was responsible for that because it was in government and didn’t want the economy disintegrating, let alone ATM machines refusing to hand out money, which was the scare story.

Those billions didn’t go into the pockets of public-sector workers – nurses, teachers, social workers, the police, librarians and the rest who are now paying the price. It helped to stabilise the system so that a small number of bankers could continue to collect obscene bonuses.

The second reaction to the crisis was the necessity of avoiding a recession which would have dragged this country back to the 1930s. Following the Keynesian model, huge amounts of cash were poured into the economy, some of it to provide jobs so that unemployment didn’t fall off a cliff, dragging us all with it.

So that is where most of the money went and had Labour continued in power it would have had to do something to reduce the resulting deficit, as it acknowledged before the election. Though it wouldn’t have done it with the glee and relish of the sadists now in charge.

Inevitably, there would have been some cuts, inevitably some job losses, inevitably pain for a sizeable proportion of the population. But there wouldn’t have been what we are about to suffer with the deepest, harshest, swiftest cuts ever inflicted on the British people.

The big truth about the New Labour government – and the leadership shouldn’t be shy of saying so – is that it did a huge amount for many of those who perform essential jobs in the public sector and who had been underpaid for decades. It also provided more jobs in schools, hospitals and other crucial services – all things a majority of people said they wanted.

Yet it is these public servants who are to bear the brunt of the unprecedented cuts being inflicted by the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Resistance should start by exposing the big lie and making everyone realise who is really responsible for the mess – and who should consequently pay to clear it up.

David Seymour was group political editor of Mirror Group newspapers for 15 years. He blogs here.

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11 Responses to “The coalition’s new clothes”

  1. william says:

    ‘It also provided more jobs in schools, hospitals and other crucial services -all things a majority of people said they wanted’.Fact is Labour polled less than 30 percent of the votes cast in 2010.How do you explain that?

  2. Jon says:

    13 years in office and a Tory press. How’s that for starters?

  3. Mark Vernon says:

    As of 2002 the previous government had a structural deficit even with the selling of 3G contracts. The truth is that the Labour government took this country into a massive deficit which was made worse by the banking crisis. The opposition of the time instead of acting objectively and condemning the largess of the government insisted they would match Labour spending in order to firm up their vote base.

    Now the situation has come to a head. What happened at the end of the Labour reign? The government tried to spend it’s way out of an economic crisis despite acknowledging verbally the need to cut spending. In this new era of Labour opposition the party needs to show the voter that they are different. That they will review the ConDem policies objectively not as has been happening and protesting schemes that match labour manifesto pledges. That they acknowledge the debt is an issue and not deny it as the Ed’s appear to. That where ConDem are wrong to cut Labour can tell them where right to cut.

    Labour need their own ideas on how to reduce the deficit rather than opportunistically denouncing Con-Dem policies off hand.

  4. Henrik says:

    Chaps. Could we please take the following statements as read in anything posted as a lead article on this site:

    a. The Coalition is lying and they’re doing so because they’re wicked and evil and not well-intentioned folk who don’t happen to share our opinions.
    b. Labour actually *won* the 2010 election, only everyone got it wrong and voted for the wrong side.
    c. Labour was a model of fiscal prudence during its 13 years in power and it’s not their fault.

    On the assumption that these three bullet points preface every article, could I please encourage the comrades to say what they would/will do differently once they storm to a magnificent 300-seat majority in 2015 and perhaps suggest some reasons why anyone should ever vote for them ever again? Something positive and optimistic, ideally mildly patriotic? Please?

  5. Jim says:

    Wow, and I thought Liberal Democrats were in trouble

    “Labour polled less than 30 percent of the votes cast in 2010.How do you explain that?”

    That’s an easy one,
    1. Voters had forgot or never lived, under a Conservative government.

    2. Labour and its leaders forgot to put the people first, instead of themselves. (Ignoring the people when it was known they did not want Mr Brown, power corrupts; Mr Brown was a very good chancellor and should have been stopped from grabbing power in his own self interest, he was tainted from forcing Mr Blair out of office.)

    3. Labour are responsible in part for the deficit, it happened on Labours watch, I think most people understand Labour was not wholly responsible and that the bankers hold a majority portion of the blame and consequences, yet the bankers believe it is now time to go back to business as normal, yet still no protection to the public and taxes, no bank should be too essential to fail, they want market economy with government bail outs, that has to stop… new regulation, whatever is needed.

    Housing needs to be sorted out, that is the start, make that safe from market forces because as long as we let house prices soar with no relation to true value, then we will keep the problem recurring.
    Housing pricing, owning and renting needs to be safeguarded, maybe new taxes on selling homes within a certain period of time, I don’t know, but something needs doing.

  6. Henrik says:

    “…The big truth about the New Labour Government – and the leadership shouldn’t be shy of saying so – is that it did a huge amount for many of those who perform essential jobs in the public sector and who had been underpaid for decades. It also provided more jobs in schools, hospitals and other crucial services – all things a majority of people said they wanted.”

    i.e. it built up a captive electorate of clients employed in the public sector – which it treated as a machine for employment, rather than a generator of services for the taxpayer.

  7. Hal says:

    Anyone looking carefully at the public spending figures has to conclude that Labour ran an exceedingly modest deficit between 2002 and 2007 and total government debt was very low by both historic and international comparisons. Indeed the proportion of GDP spent on debt interest payments is *even now* lower than it was during most of the Thatcher/Major years. So any charge that Labour was profligate just does not stand up to examining the facts.

    It is all explained very well at

    Presumably the bloggers above who gleefully assert the opposite have either not bothered to check the facts or don’t care about the facts. Either way it very neatly illustrates the main point of the article.

  8. bobby says:

    Seems to be a lot of people responding to the article who havent actualy read the thing, one also wonders why they are on LABOUR uncut anyway, kinda like lefties that go on the Mail in order to feel pus, sanctimonious and inevitabley justified in their own opinions. Noting also that there is no denial of dificits and the action required against said unspeakable evils and also that there seems to be a complete failure to engage in the logic of the article, ie it wasnt all labour profligacy from approx 1997 that did it…

  9. bobby says:

    pious*…not pus, although one finds lots of puss on the Mail

  10. Henrik says:

    @bobby: I visit this site and occasionally comment because, although by no means a Labour Party supporter, I do think it important that a credible and intellectually coherent Opposition exist in our system. All my posts to date encourage the Party to get past the fact that it lost, crushingly, the mandate it had enjoyed and to start the process of articulating a vision of what it would do and deliver in the event that it came back from the political wilderness, perhaps not in 2015, but maybe in 2020.

    Labour is a great party with a fantastic history and tradition all its own – it’s not mine and has little resonance for me, but valid for its constituency – and it’s one of the great tragedies of that political history that it’s been comprehensively trashed and annexed by statists.

    The Labour Party as originally conceived was the party of the working man and woman, of the cooperative movement, of the trades unions and of the optimistic, educative intelligentsia, all of whom combined to create a vision of a well-educated, artistically and culturally sophisticated, mutually supportive and creative society, with equality of opportunity assured for all, allowing each to find his or her place in that society.

    What we see now is a miserablist, managerial elite treating the folk of the country as a spongy mass of EastEnders-obsessed imbeciles and applying a constant regime of ever-lowering expectations and lowest-common-denominator education to ensure that our narrow political class – which is pretty much a continuum across the parties, mainly Oxbridge-educated, mainly privately-educated, mainly aligned to North and West London – continues to suck at the public teat.

    Where is the fire, the imagination, the optimism, of the early Labour Party? Come on, comrades, fight back for your party, let’s hear about the future – simply spending all your time bashing the Coalition is a waste of everyone’s valuable time and oxygen – let’s hear some good stuff from you for a change.

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