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, 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.