Thursday 15 July 2021

At least they didn't get it backdated

These days, it is (rightly) considered politically incorrect to refer to the nationality of the hapless trade union negotiator who, when he returned from arduous discussions with the employer, told his members, “There’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that I didn’t get us a pay rise; in fact I’ve agreed a pay cut. But the good news is that I got it backdated.” Whatever his nationality, he would clearly have felt fully at home as a rebel MP in the English Conservative Party.

Earlier this week, those brave enough to rebel against the authoritarian nationalists who have taken over their party set out to reverse a wholly unnecessary and mean-spirited cut to overseas aid, a cut which owes more to the fact that it is electorally popular with the section of the electorate whose support the government seeks to retain than to any financial considerations. They ended up not only failing to overturn it, but setting the cut in concrete for the foreseeable future. When it came to the vote, they discovered that many of those who they thought were going to take a principled stand alongside them turned out to be innumerate as well as unprincipled and allowed themselves to be bought off by a promise that the cut was only ‘temporary’, and that the aid would be restored when the government’s budget on day-to-day spending returned to surplus.

Budget surpluses are a regular feature of government spending forecasts, invariably just a few years away, but they are conspicuous only by their absence in the historical records of out-turn. According to this report from the House of Commons Library, “Since 1970/71, the government has had a surplus (spent less than it received in revenues) in only six years. The last budget surplus was in 2000/01.” The prospect of a revenue surplus in the foreseeable future is negligible, which means that the ‘temporary’ cut has now become an indefinite one. If there is any good news at all here, I suppose it is that the rebels proved themselves even more hapless than that trade union negotiator: at least they didn’t manage to get the aid cuts backdated.

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