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Taking a broader perspective…

The counter intuitive nature of ConDem’s welfare cuts, and delayed LibDem rebellion…

By Jane Watkinson

Reading the ConDem ‘defenses’ of the budget, and more specifically – welfare cuts, the illogically of the arguments couldn’t be any clearer. There is a central argument that somehow cutting welfare will lead to growth and prosperity and somehow is ‘fair’ – this lies on a right wing ideological assumption that most people on benefits want to be so, and enjoy ‘lazing’ around whilst Osborne puts it, their neighbours go to work and look in disbelief as the ‘scroungers” curtains remain closed at 9 in the morning.

There is no economic sense behind the slashing of welfare bills. It is not unavoidable, as Osborne put it. It is fairly obvious that if you cut welfare spending, cut benefits, and make it generally harder for people to find assistance when out of work (such as the cuts to the Future Jobs Fund) then you make it harder for the most vulnerable to live above subsistence. You then account for the fact that public sector jobs are going to be cut so dramatically that 60,000 jobs, it has been estimated, will be lost at the end of parliament – then the situation looks even more disastrous and illogical. You can’t complain that people are on benefits and then cut jobs and hammer the supply side so as to make the job market even worse than it is. But the government will seek to punish the most vulnerable for this, as many who will lose their job will go onto benefits which will be increasingly cut due to the new index linking that will see benefits have a new relation with inflation.

Furthermore, Osborne has said today that they will look into further ways to cut the benefit bill, which is worrying when considering the October budget to come. This is in aid of reducing the 25% departmental cuts that are going to take place – Osborne believes that the welfare bill is largely responsible for this high figure. Again, this shows the government’s ideological desire to pass the buck to the most vulnerable, whilst claiming that everything they are doing is actually in the best interests of the vulnerable.

It is interesting to watch LibDems increasingly criticise the coalition. This was rare occurence when I left the LibDems immediately after the coalition agreement. Instead of assuming the ‘best’ in people, I thought it would be naive to somehow assume that the LibDems could ‘tame’ the Tories. The Tories had more seats, Clegg and other high LibDem officials had changed their mind on the cuts with a devastating effect (however, what is happening now makes you doubt whether they ever believed in what they campaigned for anyway). Thus, when the LibDem MPs and the LibDem members signaled their support for the faster and deeper cutting agreed by the coalition, what did they actually expect would happen? They agreed to allow the government to press ahead with very regressive measures such as VAT increase, it is all well and good arguing that they are against it now – but they signed the deal that made it all possible. Only Charles Kennedy really can commend respect as a LibDem MP – as he was the only one to vote against the bill.

Richard Grayson, vice-chair of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee, said that:

“Liberal Democrats may soon realise that a centre-left party is being led from the centre-right.”

I think this misses the point that the LibDems themselves are now centre-right. I don’t think that the LibDems have credibility to claim that they represent progressive values, especially after high-profile LibDems such as Clegg and Cable have argued that measures such as VAT are somehow part of a progressive budget. With the October budget to come, the situation can only get worse. The illogically and counter intuitive nature of the government’s proposals and creed will only become clearer as time progresses.

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Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Liberal Democrats, , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. Richard Rolt says:

    Good article. It is true that Clegg has without a lot of grassroots members realising turned the Party in to a centre-right party.

    I think the Party has been a victim of one of the best staged coups ever in British politics.

    It is now just a waiting game to see how long people like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes will put up with the new position the Party finds itself in.

  2. A Lib Dem says:

    This has actually spurred me to write my own blog – albeit when I have some free time.

    I am starting to develop a theory that Nick Clegg was always a Tory that simply used the Liberal Democrats as a vehicle to obtain a high position within the Conservative Party. There is no way that had he joined the Conservative Party as an ordinary member that he’d be in the position he is today.

  3. Jane Watkinson says:

    Richard,

    Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the article.

    Exactly, it seems as though many grassroots assumed that Clegg wanted to try and tame the right wing ideology of the Tories’ – instead, he seems to of actually encouraged it, with the help of fellow LibDem MPs who we all used to think were social democrats (Vince Cable is a particular good example).

    I really cannot see Vince Cable actually ever going against this coalition. From what i have read, he was a key player behind the increase in VAT – Simon Hughes might, but he is rather tied as a Deputy now.

    A Lib Dem,

    Thanks for the comment, I am glad the blog has inspired you in some form.

    I think that sounds like a very plausible theory indeed. Clegg has definitely benefited from this coalition a great deal, however, he has also brought his party into meltdown territory.

  4. de g. says:

    It is a giant myth, without basis in the real world, that the Liberal Democrats are a leftist, progressive party. That you ever believed it – tua culpa, I’m afraid. At best they are centrist, but unlike Labour and the Tories theirs is a position-based centrism, rather than the values based politics that underpins Labour and the Conservatives.

    A little study of the party will show you that, apart from a few years through the 1980s and 90s when they had a broadly centrist leadership, the party holds steadfastly on to its 1850s origins. Every time there is a change of leadership they are sanctimoniously quick to remind us of the passage of Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ from leader to leader like some kind of latter-day political apostolic succession. This, of course, ignores the fact that most of the central tenets of ‘On Liberty’ define modern conservatism. Mill is about as relevant to modern progressives as Marx is.

    The Lib Dems won’t melt down, simply because their activists don’t care. They are happy to reap the rewards of lying and dirty campaigns (ask around in Leeds, there’s plenty of examples), and to provide a foil (or a figleaf depending on how you see it) for regressive Tory policies like in this week’s budget. Because the one value which seems to underpin all Lib Dems is a deep-seated hatred of the Labour Party, such that they will happily forgo every value they claim to hold to keep it out of power even where they share broadly similar aims.

  5. Jane Watkinson says:

    de g.

    Thanks for that.

    I was silly and hugely wrong to ever assume that they were a progressive party. They did have progressive parties – and were more so than Labour at times, especially when it came to civil liberties. But now it is obvious they only did this to gain power, once they had got what they wanted – some ‘influence’ within government, everything they had once ‘stood’ for seemed to vanish from under our eyes.

    I totally agree with your last paragraph – so can’t really add anything to that.

    • de g. says:

      They could have whatever policies they wanted, because there was no hope of them being in power. Their record in power speaks for itself – progressiveness is quickly forgone in return for a few bob from the levy on councillor allowances paid to the party.

  6. Jane Watkinson says:

    I meant that they did have progressive policies.

  7. Jane Watkinson says:

    de.g,

    I have to respectively disagree at some level. I don’t think that just because a party has little chance of forming a majority government, means that they don’t actually believe in what they stand for. However, I do think that specific key members of the party such as Clegg never really believed in these policies himself – many people obviously joined the LibDems just because they weren’t Labour or Tory and had the best, out of all the smaller parties, chance of getting into power.

    It is clear however, as you said above, the LibDems’s libertarian routes are too strong – and obviously would prevent them from ever having a core progressive element.

    We can’t forget that all parties when coming to power compromise slightly – such as Labour in 1997. However, the difference I think with the LibDems is that every aspect that was progressive or slightly progressive, they compromised – I can’t think of anything they have introduced that is wholly progressive that would not have happened anyway even if they hadn’t been in power.

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