Friday 18 November 2022

A plague of Hunts


Poor old Jeremy Hunt. This kind, compassionate Conservative, who set out determined to look after the interests of the poorest, didn’t really want to introduce a lot of the measures he announced yesterday, but he was, sadly, compelled to do so in order to comply with the new fiscal rules introduced by, er, Jeremy Hunt, the cold, uncaring Conservative who is bound by rigid dogma and ideology to look after the interests of the richest in society. New chancellor, new fiscal rules; but the problem with setting a fiscal rule which requires “that underlying debt must fall as a percentage of GDP by the fifth year of a rolling five-year period … [and] that public sector borrowing, over the same period, must be below 3% of GDP” is that the Hunt who set the rules left the Hunt charged with following them with little choice but to introduce measures which will increase taxation, cut public services, and reduce the standard of living of most people by around 7%. (Although, curiously, and I’m sure this is entirely unintentional, it seems that the wealthiest 10% will actually find themselves better off. Who would ever have expected that from a Tory Hunt?)

Whilst the self-styled nice Hunt can only follow the rules, the nasty Hunt didn’t have to set the rules in the way he did. He could, for instance, have set a target that debt must not rise by more than x% of GDP; or that public sector borrowing must not go above 5% of GDP. Either of those would have left him able to properly fund public services and protect the vulnerable. The so-called ‘black hole’ exists only because the fiscal rules have been applied to forecasts; applying different rules to those forecasts could have increased or reduced the size of the so-called hole – or even turned it into a surplus. Setting the rules in such a way as to oblige the Chancellor to impose a new version of austerity tells us only that the rules are doing exactly what the not-so-nice-after-all Chancellor wants them to do – austerity is a political choice, not a necessity.

He claimed yesterday that the alternative was to heap debt on our children and grandchildren, and that this was something that Conservatives don’t do. But in truth, it is exactly what Conservatives (and other governments for that matter) do do, and always have done. The UK has had a national debt since 1692 and has never repaid it all. Individual debts have, of course, been repaid, but only by raising new ones. If we treat a generation as being around 20 years, then in the terms in which Hunts (both of them) describe debt, today’s taxpayers are effectively still repaying the debts of their 14 times great grandparents. And the thing is – it really doesn’t matter; it’s entirely normal. Nobody, as far as I’m aware, is arguing that debt can or should be allowed to rise indefinitely – but neither does anyone, for all their profound statements, know precisely what amount of debt is impossible, and the UK’s public debt as a percentage of GDP is lower than a lot of other countries across the world – including both the US and Japan. The idea that the UK – one of the wealthiest countries in the world – is uniquely unable to provide basic services and standard of living for all its citizens owes nothing to any laws of economics; it is based on a dogmatic view that public spending is always inherently bad. And that’s a view shared by both Hunts, as well as all the other ones in the cabinet. Worst of all is that the Labour Party seems to be hooked on the same dogma, and seem determined to follow a similar set of rules. It seems that nasty Hunts aren't confined to a single party, even if they go under different names.

1 comment:

dafis said...

I don't have access to the data but it would be interesting to find out roughly how much loot has been left uncollected despite repeated government ( Tory and Labour predecessor) statements of intention to round up billions of tax dodged over the last 10-15 years. It stinks.