Freedom, fairness and responsibility - and it starts with £6bn worth of cuts?

26 May 2010

At a packed Conway Hall on Wednesday, May 26, Caroline delivered the following speech to those assembled for the 'Can't Pay, Wont Pay' rally.


Freedom, fairness and responsibility - that's what the new Prime Minister has said will be the focus of his new legislative programme And how does he intend to promote these objectives? Well, with £6 billion worth of cuts in the first instance.

I am sure that there is not one person in this room who doesn't share my concern that in fact the government's cuts programme will result in greater unfairness, fail to tackle inequality and do little to build the kind of strong and thriving public sector needed to provide a steady and genuinely sustainable economy.

And yes, we have only to look at Greece to see the stark reality of what happens if we stand by and let reducing the deficit and restoring economic growth be, as the Queen told us yesterday the government's first responsibility. Surely its first priority is to recognise that alongside any economic crisis there is also a social crisis? And to guarantee that any measures designed to address our economic problems do not in the process deepen that social crisis.
As the IMF and the EU agreed austerity measures and stability pacts to ‘save' Greece, I am sure the impact on families, on workers, on jobs, didn't even feature on their agenda. No, that will have been dominated by abstract zeros on a spread sheet. But those zeros are people's wages, people's livelihoods and people's quality of life.

So I for one am proud to stand this evening in solidarity with the people of Greece and join them and the movement here in the UK fighting against public sector cuts and low wages.

Being part of that fight for fairness means looking at how we have arrived at where we are today - with rising unemployment and rising home repossessions, dwindling wage levels and dwindling aspirations, an unequal society riddled with unfairness.

All of this hasn't happened by accident.

It is a direct and inevitable result of years of financial deregulation overseen first by Margaret Thatcher, then by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And now Cameron and Clegg have taken charge - and do we expect anything different? Not if they have their way.

So the priority now must be to learn the lessons of the past couple of decades - and not to repeat them. I get very worried when I hear politicians saying that we have to urgently "kick-start" the economy, that we have to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible.

I think we need to be very clear that it's precisely business as usual that has created this crisis - and that we need a very different model as we go forward. A model that is fair and sustainable, and which is based on a steady-state economy, rather than chasing ever more economic growth for its own sake.

Because of course we don't only face an economic crisis - we face a triple crunch, which includes the accelerating climate crisis, as well as the impending crisis of peak oil. And unless we address them together, we'll miss a vital opportunity to shift the economy in a truly sustainable direction, and we'll risk simply storing up an even bigger collapse in the future.

There are some who say that we can't afford to address the environmental crisis at a time of economic difficulty.

They couldn't be more wrong.

It is precisely at a time of economic crisis that we need to address our underlying patterns of production and consumption, to address the paradigm of ever-more deregulated economic globalisation, that is at the heart of all the aspects of this triple-crunch.

Economic collapse is extremely painful. But environmental collapse - the collapse of the planet's support systems which sustain life on earth as we know it - that is truly unbearable.

There is a way out - and it doesn't involve £6 billion worth of cuts or dismantling public services or pay freezes.

But first we need to get away from the idea that we can grow our way out of our problems - and replace it instead with a programme designed to develop a steady-state economy. A zero carbon economy.

We need to get away too from the idea that austerity is the way out of a recession. In fact now is absolutely the wrong time for cuts in government spending. Cuts now will increase unemployment, lower government revenues and increase spending on benefits. An increase in unemployment would reduce the amount of money circulating in the economy and in so doing increase the vulnerability of the economy.
Now is the time for green quantitative easing. A programme of green spending that kick-starts the shift to green energy will produce countless new jobs, and keep money circulating in the economy where it is needed most, when it is needed most. This is a programme that can be put into action even as the programme of quantitative easing for the banks is wound down. This programme has a name and it is Green New Deal - beware of imitations though. Many have tried to claim the idea as their own whilst omitting crucial elements like the commitment to tackling existing abuses and redistributing the burdens of taxation within the current tax system.

Cracking down on tax havens and collecting unpaid tax could generate £13 billion in one year, rising to £13 bn by 2013 - why isn't the government looking to help reduce the deficit this way?

And what about taxation itself?

In the last 30 years the tax system has become much more regressive, as a result of which the poorest tenth pay 46% of their wealth in tax whilst the richest tenth pay only 34%. No surprise then that research by Compass has found considerable public support for a fairer tax system to redistribute wealth, with 78% in a recent poll saying they would support a tax system whereby the richest 10% pay at least the same percentage of their income in tax as the poorest 10%.
Cameron, Osbourne et al seems to think they can ignore public opinion on this though and instead cut welfare benefits and public sector pay.

Consider too that senior Whitehall sources say that the Chancellor is now being urged to draw up detailed plans by the autumn on how up to £60 billion of public spending cuts will be divided among defence, schools, transport, the police, welfare and other big departments within two years.

The Treasury already has a number of ideas in its sights: means testing child benefit, cutting payments for the disabled and reducing housing benefit.

I say again, that this is not the way to take Britain out of recession - nor is it going to increase fairness, quite the opposite!

And I say too that we must learn from Greece not just when it comes to seeing played out the logical conclusion of an austerity agenda that treats the economy as master rather than a tool to make society better. We must learn too from the alliances being forged, the networks being developed and strength that lies on unity and resistance.

I painted a rather bleak picture of Britain earlier yet let us not forget that on May 6th voters clearly indicated their lack of support for any of the business as usual scenarios peddled by the big 3 parties. Britain instead, I believe, voted for change, for doing things differently, for a new and fresh approach - how disappointed people must be by the fudge and fickleness they have had dumped upon them.

I believe we deserve more - for equality to be put centre stage; for our public services to be strengthened; and for government to take responsibility for promoting fairness rather than bowing out under some misguided marketing concept called "big society".

Cameron's big society is built on the idea of people power - so I hope you will join me to show him what real people power looks like. If we get it right - and get it right we must if we want to avoid going down the path that Greece has been forced to travel - he won't know what's hit him.

Thank you.



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