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Taking a broader perspective…

Comprehensive Spending Review: Leeds’ Reaction…

Key Policies

Whilst George Osborne made a bit of a thing out of having a 1% lower than Labour (minimum) expected average department cut level, the means by which this average was achieved are extremely worrying. Furthermore, there is nothing to be pleased about when announcing 19% average departmental cuts, unless, of course, you were doing it for ideological reasons; as the Chicago school, with the likes of Milton Friedman, helped initiate through Pinochet. The average ignores the disparity between the departments as well – The Guardian have a useful breakdown of this.

The other very concerning fact, which Osborne attempted to cover up by rushing through the announcements, is the scale of the welfare cuts. Now, it is important to remember that, in this context, welfare is talked about in a very restrictive sense. In fact, as people pointed out – Osborne bases his atypical judgements of welfare ‘muggers’ on an invalid £5bn ‘fraud’ figure, as only £1.5bn of that £5bn is through fraud – the rest is due to overpayments and errors. The poorest are set to be the most affected by the CSR in general, as well as being the most affected by the welfare cuts (as set out by the government’s own analysis) – the latter are set to account for basically more than a 1/4 of the cuts. Added to the welfare cuts that have already been announced are:

A new 12-month time limit for the one million people on employment and support allowance to find work or face benefit cut. 10% cut in council tax benefit budget. New threshold on housing benefit. Maximum savings award in pension credit to be frozen for four years. Increased working hours threshold for working tax credits for couples with children. New total benefits cap per family.

Many of the policies have been drip dropped throughout the last few weeks – so many were unsurprising; but the gravity of the economic madness introduced is still unbelievably hard to get your head around. When it came to being the ‘greenest’ government ever – they announced £1bn investment into the Green Bank whilst undermine public transport through rising railway fares, whilst promoting more environmentally damaging uses of transport, such as cars. Ernst and Young had previously stated that for the Green Bank to be a success, it needed commitment of around £4-6bn, with New Economic Foundation musing around a possible £10bn investment. The potential this had for real investment and growth (something this CSR’s supposed to champion in its complete faith with the private sector) has been lost for now; it is very disappointing.

There was talk of giving councils freedom, but cutting their budget by 7.1%, regardless of the removal of the ring-fencing around grants, will reduce council power – not enhance, contra to what this government seems to think. The government talks about giving the police more power, but then announces annual 4% cuts to their budget alone! Then there is the special attention given to counter terrorism, which Osborne was so keen to promote, which when looked at in detail will also face cuts of 10%!

There is much analysis around the net, so above is only a brief sketch of the damage that was announced in the CSR.

Labour’s Response

Alan Johnson did well as a performer in response to the CSR. It can’t be particularly ideal having to respond like that on-the-hoof so what Johnson did he did well. The problems in Labour’s response are not in the performance of Johnson’s delivery but what he actually has to say and the problems it is now causing for Labour’s economic narrative. All of the graphs released post the CSR totally agreed on one thing; that it is the poorest 20% who are shouldering the heaviest burdens next to the very rich. So, one might be tempted to conclude, rightly in actual fact, that the ‘squeezed middle’ is a load of hokum and exists purely in the realms of fantasy and the rather fevered imaginations of Mr Johnson and Mr Miliband.

The emphasis of the ‘squeezed middle’ leads Labour worryingly astray when it comes to how it responds. Pointing to the manifest unfairness of the cuts may well score points rhetorically but, in reality, Labour isn’t committed to doing anything about it. It supports the welfare reforms which are placing such a heavy burden on societies sickest and most vulnerable and so it’s manifestly hypocritical of it to criticise the unfairness in the first place.

When you look at the wider picture worrying problems emerge. Sure, Labour want to increase the tax burden on the rich but saying ‘tax can do most of the heavy lifting’ is accompanied with the sum total of zero strategies for dramatically raising revenue. The Coalition hasn’t got a growth strategy but neither has Labour and when people move beyond being angry at the pain they are suffering this approach is going to be found desperately wanting. Instead of a growth strategy we have this glass-half-empty narrative and angry sounding soundbites.

Having given Johnson some praise it is now time to recognise the sad truth; he simply isn’t capable of taking Labour where they need to go on the economy and Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were and remain so. Johnson will not last in his post and is very much the caretaker and put plainly, he looks it. However, the wisdom of appointing a ‘caretaker’ to such a vital role is highly questionable and it will sadly backfire on Ed Miliband and Labour.

Leeds’ Protest

To vent our frustrations, we headed off to Leeds City Centre for a protest against the unnecessary, ideological driven CSR. It was a very well attended protest (as you can see from the pictures included – don’t be fooled by the meeting room below, we were early!), and it looks like it will be outdone by the upcoming protest on Saturday in Sheffield at 12.30-3pm! There was the usual rally and collective spirit, with some very enthusiastic talks from activists involved in unions and so on. Also, something that was very impressive, is the level of convergence with other themes such as the gender inequality of the cuts. As Fawcett Society have comprehensively explained, these cuts are going to hit women so much harder. Given that women are already often in unequal positions in society, this is untenable, and hopefully we can see a convergence of mobilisation amongst the movements so as we can create a much broader and encompassing resistance to the ConDem government.

Specifically, something that draws many different movements together will be the onslaught on the public services – as the government sets out a massive 490,000 cut in public sector workers! Their reliance on the private sector however, is very unfounded – especially considering the contractual and dependent relationship the private sector has with the public sector expressed in schemes such as PFI. This will actually reduce private sector jobs, consumer confidence and demand, as well as welfare increasing; and so the whole thing will spiral out of control, as it did in Ireland, and as it has in many countries who have initiated IMF policies. On the bright side, these IMF polices often brought about a popular resistance, where broad-based collective movements fought alongside each other to bring down the government, and replace it with a more socially just government.

However, as the union laws are so regressive, it is not as easy to organise strikes as it is in France. There were even a few police organising around the protests today, but even they might become a bit more sympathetic when their own cuts start to bite! What we need is a progressive alliance amongst the left so as to undermine these regressive cuts and to show the government that ordinary people will not just accept these ideological driven devastating actions.

Leeds Coalition of Resistance

It was frankly, a bit surprising to be invited to a Coalition of Resistance meeting in Leeds at the end of the demonstration given that if you scout the internet there are absolutely no signs it exists at all. This is probably a problem for it from the off. Indeed, one comrade who mentioned the need for a communications strategy was wrongly ignored by the main speakers in their summing-ups.

We were one of the very few non far-left comrades in attendance. It seemed that Workers Power were doing the heavy-lifting with enthusiastic support from the Socialist Workers Party. The meeting made the valid point that what we need to build is a broad movement. However, the lack of a comms strategy is a serious problem especially as the COR is looking to draw support from people who are likely to be net savvy ie, students.

A good point was made about the establishment of college networks which is something that should be pursued and it was good that one comrade mentioned broader political issues like the boundary review in terms of the concerted assault on the wider labour movement. Encompassing a broad range of issues might well be another key plank of building the kind of movement everybody at the meeting was agreed that we wanted to see. The demonstration was a good start in that direction however, in particular, the lack of a comms strategy could well hamper the growth of that movement if it is not something that is quickly addressed.

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3 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jane Watkinson, Broad Left Blogging. Broad Left Blogging said: Editorial @Broadleftblog by @JaneWatkinson & @DarrellGoodliff on Leeds' reaction to the Comprehensive Spending Review http://wp.me/pXkBd-3x […]

  2. […] and Jane Watkinson have written a short review of the CSR and a report on how Leeds reacted here at Broad Left […]

  3. Oranjepan says:

    From where I’ve been in Europe recently I simply can’t understand your reaction to the CSR. And I particularly can’t accept your enthusiasm for strikes.

    Oh yes, but I forget, we’ve had this discussion previously, you are ideologically driven as those you claim to oppose!

    I find it a crying shame when ideology comes before people. Well not so much, because people always win out over ideology.

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