Slam the brakes on austerity

Slam the brakes on austerity

19 February 2015

By Joy Johnson
First published in Tribune

The phony war is over. Let battle commence. But over what?   

Political gaffes, pink buses, and forgotten surnames. It is so much easier for the media who make a fetish out of trivia.  Why worry about child care, Sure Start or care for the elderly when there is a bright pink battle bus to confect a synthetic argument about?

Over nine million women didn’t vote at the last election.  Lost voters that Cameron and Miliband are desperate to win over.  During the 2010 TV debates David Cameron in his ‘wide eyed, I am hurt, inimitable style’ turned on Gordon Brown: ‘We back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this.”

He almost got away with it but ever more onerous cuts in local government funding have led to budgets plummeting. Ring fencing had in fact been swiftly abandoned by the coalition government. Sure Start centres closed and more are threatened.  

Tory claims that Sure Start were safe carried as much weight as the: ‘there will be no top down reorganization of the health service’. Within weeks after this explicit promise was made a massive reorganisation was underway.  

Instead of preparing to deal with the serious challenges that the NHS is confronting the authoritative and independent think tank, the King’s Fund, said that the reorganisation, forced through by the then health secretary Andrew Lansley had been: “damaging and distracting”. 

Labour is absolutely right to put the defence of the NHS at the heart of its election campaign.  This doesn’t mean that this is at the expense of campaigning on the economy.  Halting the sell-off of the NHS and lifting the pay freeze is part and parcel of our economic well-being.   

These are the issues that women care about.  Splitting the NHS off from economic issues is a false premise.  Of course women care about what is happening in the health service but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the cost of living.  

It’s not the pink bus that is patronising.  It’s patronising to suggest that women don’t care about the economy. Apart from anything else women make up the backbone of our public service and our care industries. And they have suffered disproportionately.  Not only because of freezes in pay. 

Workers have been demoralised by the relentless attacks on them and their colleagues by Cameron, Osborne and the rest. Although none of them could have bettered the former education secretary Michael Gove, who abused those who teach our kids by calling them ‘the blob’!   Even Cameron thought that went a tad too far since he reshuffled his mate out of the education department, and into the chief whip’s office. 

Now we have a secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, who does at least make more sympathetic noises. She should watch her back, though. Her boss last week put her under the fund raising hammer. The highest bidder among the UK’s wealthiest, who gathered to bankroll the Conservatives, will be able to jog along with her. Then off to breakfast no doubt to discuss fiscal policy!

This coalition government has failed even on their own terms. Tax dodgers deprive the country of money that would bring benefit for all of us. And having a so called recovery that is predicated on a low wage economy has deprived the revenue of the tax take.

Inequality in Britain is back to what it was in Victorian England. The tiny elite that is the wealthiest of all chuck their money around buying yachts, one of which is being built has eleven decks and a ski slope.  It’s grotesque.  

The election of the political rock stars of Syriza ,the prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis are proof that the Greeks had had enough of humiliation and penury.  

Austerity hasn’t worked here either. And the threat that the medicine that is already killing off the patient will continue to be prescribed if the Tories win in May is an election campaign that Labour should rebuff.  

Take the pink battle bus around the UK by all means, but petrol could be saved by promising to slam the brakes on the austerity merry go round, lift the pay freeze, take on the tax avoiders, penalise those who buy to leave and win the election.