The left reaction to government cuts may not succeed unless…


by Sunny
24th May, 2010 at 2:37 pm    

Lots of people are, justifiably, outraged over the cuts announced today by the government. I think this outrage and narrative needs a bit of focus, if it is to put the coalition on the defensive3.

For a start, it would be worth acknowledging that cuts in government spending cannot be avoided. Many lefties actually think we can carry on spending like we have been – a financially non-viable situation. The deficit is too big and dangerous to carry on the same level of spending.

Secondly, the coalition government have been talking about the coming cuts for months, if not years. The public expects it and most people will be ok with it. Don’t expect them to automatically join in the outrage.

Third: the key to mobilising public opinion against the cuts will rest on getting two things right: (1) successfully pointing out that these cuts will make the situation worse when the cuts could have been made more efficiently elsewhere; and (2) focusing specifically on what is being cut, and being able to inform particular demographics (mothers, students etc) how the cuts specifically hurt them.

Opposing cuts in a general sense is a losing strategy.

Update: Several have said on Twitter that the deficit should be financed by taxation. I don’t buy that for two reasons. Firstly, the deficit is just too big for that much of an increase in taxation to plug the gap. No really, it is. Do the math.

Secondly, at one point the City was contributing to nearly 35% of our tax revenues. The sector is unlikely to ever recover to the point where it offers that much revenue in the future, so a long term decline in spending will be necessary. Furthermore, we shouldn’t even want to be that reliant on the City in the future for taxes.

Either way, the maths point towards a long-term decrease in spending unless we can find some new growth industry that stimulates the economy.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: The left reaction to government cuts may not succeed unless… http://bit.ly/9JzFwL


  2. thehooleys

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: The left reaction to government cuts may not succeed unless… http://bit.ly/9JzFwL


  3. sunny hundal

    @citizenandreas @8minstosunrise @dolphinmaria @HarpyMarx – I've expanded on my thoughts in the post http://bit.ly/9JzFwL


  4. Steve Akehurst

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: The left reaction to government cuts may not succeed unless… http://bit.ly/9JzFwL


  5. Public deficit: What will happen to the money when you pay it across to them….?? « Harpymarx

    [...] to the money when you pay it across to them….?? 24 05 2010 It isn’t how to pay off the deficit but what happens to the money when you pay it across to them…what are the [...]


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    Pickled Politics » The left reaction to government cuts may not … http://bit.ly/dxnMFO


  12. Jon Sharman

    Yes .@M_Star_Online http://bit.ly/clOMEH but also http://bit.ly/9V2Mz3 ( .@sunny_hundal ) #osbourne #cuts #uk




  1. Obnoxio The Clown — on 24th May, 2010 at 2:39 pm  

    “the cuts could have been made more efficiently elsewhere”

    Go on, then, where?

  2. bat020 — on 24th May, 2010 at 2:52 pm  

    Can’t help thinking this strategy will only lead to division. If you set aside questions of *why* the cuts are happening and *whether* they should happen, you end up restricting the argument to *what* gets cut.

    And in practice that will mean my campaign to save a university course, your campaign to save a local hospital, Fred’s campaign to save his job etc will be at loggerheads with each other. It’s a recipe for whatever-the-opposite-of-solidarity-is.

  3. Donnacha DeLong — on 24th May, 2010 at 3:08 pm  

    The only answer to the cuts is for trade unions to quit faffing around talking about rebuilding the Labour Party (or building new parties – I’m looking at you, Bob Crow) and start recruiting, organising and fighting like they haven’t in 100 years! In other words, we need to rebuild syndicalism.

    As for where cuts should fall – how about executive pay and excessive use of consultants in the public sector and wasteful and unproductive privatisation. Instead, let’s see major investment in tax collection to collect the estimated £120 billion worth of uncollected tax or tax evasion http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/21F7CC23-90AB-4D68-9F48E55958D54C9F

  4. Sunny — on 24th May, 2010 at 3:08 pm  

    Solidarity yes, but illiteracy, no. And the idea that there don’t have to be ANY cuts is just economic illiteracy. Within a year our government would go bankrupt and we’d end up like those idiot Greeks who did this for years.

    No government can sustain a massive deficit for long. Just a fact of life.

    Obnoxio – I’m just making the strategic point. People far more cleverer than me can offer the examples. I don;t have answers to everything (much as I’m loathe to admit).

  5. MaidMarian — on 24th May, 2010 at 3:49 pm  

    Sunny – You neglect the most interesting part about the proposed cuts, that certain areas of spending have been made immune from cuts, the NHS in particular.

    Plainly, this means that the cuts in other areas will be deeper, and this is not to mention that there are entirely good arguments for some NHS cuts. There absolutely is an argument for cuts to international development.

    Quite why some areas are sacred cows is a question that no one seems to want to ask.

  6. cjcjc — on 24th May, 2010 at 3:51 pm  

    Forgive me for being slightly thick.

    What is the point of “mobilising public opinion” against cuts which, as you say, are inevitable?

  7. The Common Humanist — on 24th May, 2010 at 4:11 pm  

    I haven’t actually met a lefty who thinks the deficit doesn’t need to be addressed.

    This public account deficit, 90% of it anyway, is due to the financial crisis and the resulting recession. The public account deficit has done its job – saved the banking sector and starved off a depression, and not, despite how much Double Dip George wishes it were so, because Labour went mad with the cheque book.

    So we need a private sector lead recovery but the financial sector is screwed for a while and what are the Double Dip Cru doing from No11, hammering business support, the universities and the RDAs. Outstanding. Like drilling a hole in your boat.

  8. cjcjc — on 24th May, 2010 at 4:16 pm  

    I believe the consensus is that 50% (not 90%) of the deficit is cyclical and 50% structural.

  9. Cauldron — on 24th May, 2010 at 5:16 pm  

    Sensible, realistic post Sunny.

    However I think you’ve missed the elephant in the living room. Namely, the scandalous inequality between public and private pensions – early retirement plus our taxpaying children having to underwrite index-linking in perpetuity. As long as this manifest unfairness remains then the average private sector employee will believe that there is more room for public sector cuts “that don’t impact front line services”.

    I think the Left underestimates the degree of resentment felt about this issue in the tax-contributing regions of the UK. The smart thing for the Left would be to get ahead of the issue and say “OK. Let’s reform public pensions but please spare cuts on X, Y and Z”.

    Of course, the unions will never let Labour make that call. Cameron, meanwhile, is astute enough to leave public pensions as the last issue to be tackled, thereby prolonging the feeling of resentment among voters employed in the private sector.

    @5 – dead right. Perhaps there are actually 3 elephants in the living room: the NHS, DFID and pensions. Oh, and thank you for the kind words on the other thread.

  10. MBoy — on 24th May, 2010 at 5:45 pm  

    Sensible post. I dont expect the left to heed it though, because frothing at the outrage of cuts is SO much easier than proposing alternatives. The Labour Party, like all defeated parties, will now enter a period of juvenile, reactionary and populist politicking, before entering the zone of “government in waiting” many years hence.

  11. soru — on 24th May, 2010 at 6:00 pm  

    Firstly, the deficit is just too big for that much of an increase in taxation to plug the gap. No really, it is. Do the math.

    Actually, that’s precisely backwards. Some spending cuts will be necessary, but realistically only tax rises and growth promotion will be able to bring in the sums needed:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/7721144/Coalition-government-may-have-to-impose-50bn-tax-rise.html
    Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics warned that the Office for Budget Responsibility, the three-man independent committee charged with assessing how much to cut the deficit, could urge the Government to raise taxes by £50bn, which would imply that a 9.5p increase in the basic rate of income tax would be necessary on top of a VAT rise.

    Countries with solid finances (germany, scandanavia) have high tax revenues. Those with dodgy ones (Greece, Ireland, the USA) have low tax bases.

    Furthermore, we shouldn’t even want to be that reliant on the City in the future for taxes.

    That sounds suspiciously like the whole ‘the coal industry is unprofitable, politically undesirable and must be destroyed’ line that right-wing economists spouted last time they had the ear of those in power.

    Nonsense then, nonsense now.

  12. Rumbold — on 24th May, 2010 at 9:29 pm  

    Nice to see a fellow Pickler supporting spending cuts.

  13. RickB — on 24th May, 2010 at 9:31 pm  

    I think those focussing on the deficit (which is a right wing strategy long used in the US) should spend some time reading Richard Murphy for some perspective-
    http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/

  14. Rumbold — on 24th May, 2010 at 9:33 pm  

    No, it’s okay thanks.

  15. MaidMarian — on 24th May, 2010 at 10:05 pm  

    Cauldron – Thank you for your reply. I am at a loss as to why the NHS and DFID are exempt from the cuts. Leaving aside that that surely means cuts will fall harder on other departments, I would have thought that these would have been ripe for pruning.

    I am a bit less concerned about pensions though. There is an easy reform, make the civil service and local government pensions like the very good university or NHS schemes. It is also worth pointing out the dire performance of many private sector pension funds and with the failure of private businesses (and for that matter the directors and employees of those businesses), to save towards retirement.

    In terms of sacred cows outside of the public sector, the need to raise the retirement age is a big one, no doubt.

    But not as big as the need to reign in the property market – but no one will take that one on.

  16. Fred — on 24th May, 2010 at 10:09 pm  

    Interested in any links to PP posts from 2009 or earlier that argued for cuts in government spending, can someone help me out? Thanks.

  17. Yakoub — on 25th May, 2010 at 6:33 am  

    The BECTA cut strikes me as being a particularly stupid. Although I haven’t worked in a classroom since 2002, I know BECTA have made a huge contribution to ICT education since then, and in primary education, there was and I assume still is a deficit in expertise – when I trained as a primary teacher in 98/99, I became an ICT specialist – it was (and probably still is) the only national curriculum specialism primary teachers can train in without having the relevant degree.

  18. Cauldron — on 25th May, 2010 at 6:34 am  

    @13. I wasted half an hour reading the link you provided. I should have stopped reading when I got to the assertion that there was no such thing as a non-job in the public sector (my personal favourite quango to kill: Sport England).

    But I kept on reading in the hope of finding out what the author considers the desirable upper limit on public spending. No such luck, so I guess the author was OK with the Soviet Union.

    Anyway, from a political perspective, I don’t really mind if the left wants to defend the public sector at all costs and protect the welfare-dependent regions from all scrutiny. It’s a good way of ensuring that Labour remains a permanent minority south of the M62.

  19. Sarah AB — on 25th May, 2010 at 7:01 am  

    Yakoub – a little off topic – but I’ve often wondered how useful ICT classes are – that seems the one area in which my children manage to be wonderfully motivated and proficient without any school input. Some of the comments here – about BECTA – are interesting.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/24/becta_cut/

  20. Yakoub — on 25th May, 2010 at 8:24 am  

    Sorry, correction to original comment – not degree to specialise, but ‘A’ level (but not ICT). @Sarah AB – ICT is cross curricular, or was when I was last in the classroom. The main skill schools need is in assessing software and procurement, and BECTA has played a big role there, I gather. I worked for a special ed service where the head of service expensively fucked up the procurement due to lack of relevant knowledge,

    I also understand BECTA has been instrumental in getting whiteboards into classrooms, and has also been crucial in special ed (Ekklesia has a blog on this).

    The targets for end of KS2 (unless they’ve changed) are easily within reach of 90% of pupils, which reflects the lack of teacher expertise.

  21. MaidMarian — on 25th May, 2010 at 10:03 am  

    Cauldron – Sport England (aka the Sports Council).

    You are probably right. Successive goernments have never been able to make their minds up whether sport should be ‘elite-supported’ (open to debate at best) or as something for mass participation with a bit of fitness added (article of faith for some, evidence at best questionable). It has ended up the worst of all worlds with SE (and UK Sports) becoming almost like consultants that ‘faciliate’ local groups in making bids, whilst diluting elite funding.

    SE is one of the few quangos I can think of that if it did not exist it would not be invented in some way. I am open to an argument that there should be much more in the way of municipal sport facilities (and it should be noted here that many sports are administered terribly badly), but SE is a hopelessly inappropriate body to work through.

  22. Kismet Hardy — on 25th May, 2010 at 5:49 pm  

    If I ever become the proud owner of some sort of a pet like a turtoise or a boy I shall name it Quango.

  23. Shamit — on 26th May, 2010 at 2:22 am  

    MaidMarian/Cauldron

    NHS and DFID are not saved from cuts. Both Secretaries Of State made it abundantly clear that savings would have to be made however the Chancellor is happy to reroute that to

    a) In NHS – frontline servicing rather than behemoth NfpIT or layers of managers in case of DoH and as the Government is keen to drive Local NHS control – the funds could be better used.

    Ring fencing spending in real terms would still require savings as the demand on NHS is deemed to be higher than ever before and with longer life span, the demand would get higher. The real term spending would barely be adequate in the next couple of years some have warned. So, Lansley got his work cut out.

    b) In DFID – the thinking is to focus on work that is strategically important for Britain and on work that delivers results. Once again funds need to be diverted to things that we need to do.

    I personally think DFID does play a key role in making Britain secure both in short and long term as well allows us to demonstrate that Britain is a force for good in this world.

    It is in our best interest to attempt to reduce the number of children in abject poverty and with no education and it is also the right thing to do.

    ************************************
    I think the Left or at least the vocal left is arguing the same old big government – small government debate. This new government is focusing on defining it in terms of effective and enabling government – it does not seek to be radical much to the dismay of some Lib Dems.

    But why should the Left focus on the cuts? The Government would have serious questions to answer on:

    a) How can you ensure local control and private sector involvement would not end up in the hated two tiered public service structure? This would be a challenge.

    b) There is consensus across the country that we need to compete with our knowledge, high level skills and innovation. Then why cut the additional 10,000 places in Universities?

    c) Academies and Free Schools could lead to exclusive education system – ensuring more children are doomed as the best quality and most committed teachers would go where the grass is truly greener. How do you combat that?

    d) How would this queen’s speech tackle youth unemployment?

    Cameron Government has set out ambitious and comprehensive goals – the best way the Left can combat it is through challenging on the specifics – highlight examples of things not working.

    Having broad swipes on cuts and tax breaks for the rich is just not going to cut it – and claiming social justice as a monopoly would not work either. Best example was when Cameron slammed Blunkett today.

    The former home secretary raised a good point but the answer from the prime minister made the intervention look silly. So usual tactics that worked on previous Tory PMs would not work on Cameron.

  24. MaidMarian — on 26th May, 2010 at 9:57 am  

    Shamit – Thank you for your reply. The NHS is not seeing a budget cut (for the moment at least). There is no reason why this should be so. I do accept that one way of saving would be to face down the, ‘save our local inefficient low quaity unit,’ crowd and the BMA – both powerful interest groups but the NHS can be cut.

    NHS computer projects are a good example. Some of the more recent innovations have been very bureaucracy intensive. But post MMC in 2007 there is a real excess of useless training posts never filled – these can be shut off.

    DFID gives money to India and China. Both of those have nuclear weapons and space programmes. That is a price to high for looking good.

  25. Calimari — on 27th May, 2010 at 12:49 am  

    Cuts must be resisted, the Tories would like to skin us alive. We must support the unions. There must be no compromise. We can borrow more if it needs be.

  26. AbandonedTracks — on 29th May, 2010 at 12:41 pm  

    It’s good to see some sensible opinion from a Left leaning blog. Much more realistic than most of what I’ve seen on the left wing of the internet, from Twitter to the Guardian.

    Cauldron – I’m glad someone has the sense to point out “the scandalous inequality between public and private pensions”

    This is only one aspect, not satisfied with increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, the Labour party developed a new disparity; between the low paid private sector and the public sector.

    The conditions in the low paid private sector have been getting worse for years, but with job losses, pay and recruitment freezes along with increased individual workloads, the low paid private sector have been paying for the “mistakes of bankers” for some two years.

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