Thursday, 25 November 2021

Controlling the parameters


One of the great successes of the Tories in recent years – since the days of Thatcher, effectively – is that they’ve managed to persuade people that the government’s finances should be treated in exactly the same way as a household’s finances. It’s absolute nonsense, of course, but it has established the perimeters of political debate for other parties.  They feel obliged to follow the Tories’ example of setting a ‘fiscal rule’ for government spending, and Labour is this week reiterating its own commitment to that ideological viewpoint.

In practice, I don’t think that the Tories have ever stuck to any rule that they’ve laid down. The rule is for show, not for obeying. In economic terms, they don’t need to abide by the rule, and they know it. For them, aided and abetted by their friends in the media, the main purpose of the rule they so carefully lay out isn’t to constrain their own actions so much as to put limits on the ambitions of any opposition parties. And that’s where we see the real extent of their success: they’ve managed to hamstring the main opposition party into declaring it will follow a set of rules which the Tories themselves never follow, and thereby make it harder to propose radical alternatives. 

The Tories have effectively seized control of the parameters of the Overton window of political debate. An opposition party which was serious about wanting change would never allow itself to be suckered in such a way; fortunately for the Tories, their main opposition party doesn’t meet that criterion. The result is a Labour Party which is, without spelling it out, more committed to following the fiscal policy which led to austerity than the government itself.

1 comment:

dafis said...

One of the most weird contradictions found in the "austerity" mindset is the willingness on the part of its advocates to persistently engage in spending which most rational people would regard as "wasteful". While screwing £20 a week out of the less well off, letting utility bills and petrol pump prices spiral out of control,this government will still go ahead with an unrestrained spend on defence ( what is the real figure for Trident ?)the HS2 folly gets truncated but remains a big bill to settle, and the levelling up scam will spew money out of government coffers into those of their friends in large corporations and institutions. Yet Starmer can't even argue the toss within this context so you have no chance of him arguing that the "austerity mindset" is a fake anyway.