Ed Miliband: 'David Cameron wants a return to the days of Tory arrogance'
By Ed Miliband in the Guardian:
This was the week that took the compassion out of David Cameron's claim to compassionate Conservatism. In fact, it was a week that had a feel that my generation and his remember: back to the 1980s.
First, the old argument that there is no alternative has reappeared. No cut is too deep, no reduction in spending too large. If we don't act as the government says, they claim Britain will go the way of Greece. No matter that in every major respect – size of debt ratio, history of debt default, levels of growth – the government took over an economy totally different from Greece.
In fact, Britain entered the recession with the second lowest level of debt in the G7, the economy was growing strongly when we left office, and the fiscal deficit was actually £10bn lower than forecast in the March budget.
Of course the deficit is high and needs to be brought down. Our approach, based on halving it over four years, would bring it down every year. But the idea that we are about to go bankrupt is pure political spin to justify a familiar ideological project of a smaller state.
Second, just as in the 1980s, the government has reduced its economic policy to one objective. For the early 80s monetarist claim about inflation being the only measure of economic success, now read the 2010s claim that the deficit is the only thing that matters.
Any plan for deficit reduction must be part of a plan for economic growth. But all the government offers are cuts which will put half a million public servants out of work and the same number at risk in the private sector, as firms that rely on government contracts feel the squeeze.
Beyond the immediate threats to employment, where is the long-term plan for growth and the jobs of the future? Last week we discovered that 190,000 students who want to go into higher education were turned away. Employment programmes for the young unemployed are being cut, as is support for new industries. Just as the Tories created a lost generation in the 1980s, so we see the same risk today.
Third, what about fairness? The Institute for Fiscal Studies blows apart the government's claims and says that the changes being made are regressive: hitting poorer households on average more than richer ones. It is not just the poor who have been targeted. Families with kids are amongst the biggest losers, and despite being lower paid women lose more than men.
What about the apparent rays of light? We should welcome an idea like the pupil premium in education, but overall there will be sharp cuts in spending on nine out of ten secondary school pupils. And some things being done are way beyond what was attempted in the 1980s.
What does it mean to cut a local authority budget by a quarter? This scale of reduction will go deep into the heart of services that people rely on: the local library, meals on wheels or the local leisure centre.
The arrogant ideological swagger of the 1980s is back, too. The Conservative MPs waving their order papers with apparent joy at the largest spending cuts in a generation. The belief that statistics about fairness can be manipulated without people wising up. And the claim to certainty about our economic prospects in an uncertain world.
But the deepest problem is the pessimism that pervades David Cameron's political project. He has made deficit reduction the judge and jury of everything he stands for. Not building a good economy, not creating a society where people's kids get on, not championing a better environment.
We could have had a different spending review. We could have ensured that we raised more money from the banks that caused the crisis than from cuts in child benefit. With a more measured pace of deficit reduction, there would still have been difficult decisions and cuts. But we would have done more to support the economy, defend frontline services and protect those in need.
Will they get away with the gamble? I don't believe people are up for a dangerous and reckless gamble with our economic future. It is up to people of all political persuasions who fear for Britain's society and our economy to stand up and commit to protect not just our values and ideals but the basics of our social and economic fabric.