Theresa May has said that austerity is finished. What she didn’t mention – but knows full well – is that it was never necessary in the first place.
After the financial crisis of 2007-8, which was largely caused by deregulation of the financial system on the ideological basis that the market always knows best, the Conservative press started telling a story which wasn’t true. The narrative they came up with was that Labour overspending had caused the country to become mired in unsustainable levels of public debt. The solution was to do what they had always wanted: shrink the British state, selling off the profitable parts of the NHS and reducing the post-war Welfare State to a bare mimimum. It was a clear case of what Naomi Klein had described the previous year as the shock doctrine: the taking advantage of a crisis in order to implement an extreme ideological agenda which in normal circumstances would be roundly rejected. As the neoliberal guru Milton Friedman had said:
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.
On the basis of the story the Conservatives won two general elections. As a direct result of the ‘savage’ cuts (to quote Nick Clegg’s ill-advised boasts) millions turned to food banks and thousands were killed by benefit sanctions and the removal of their disability benefits. The NHS is now on its last legs, both of which are due to be ripped off at any moment and sold off to speculators, as detailed in the Naylor Review.
How were they able to get away with it? Because the Labour Party never challenged the narrative. They never pointed out with sufficient conviction that it wasn’t government overspending that had caused the crisis. Whenever they tried to articulate their own version of events it was done so unconvincingly that the right-wing press shouted them down and they were cowed.
Now the Labour Party is telling its own story and it happens to be one that coincides with the truth. Austerity was a con, a scam, and a coup and the damage that’s been done to public services and to social cohesion was a result of maliciousness and greed. Now, at long last, after seven bitter and frustrating years, it is finally arguing its case with such conviction that the whole tenor of debates about society and the economy have changed more or less overnight.
The Tories think they can get away with pretending to drop austerity and moving swiftly on. They must not be allowed to do so. The cuts agenda has been the entire basis of government policy at every moment of the last seven years and they knew that it was based on lies. They knew that the economic crisis was nothing to do with government overspending. The scale of the scam that has been pulled is so great that it would take a truth and reconciliation commission to get at the truth. It was not based on a regrettable misunderstanding that has now been resolved. It was based on an immense campaign of lies so that public wealth in all its different forms, both tangible and intangible but all absolutely invaluable, could be monetised, financialised and ultimately stolen. It hasn’t been a marginal aspect of the last two governments’ political programmes but their absolute centrepiece. We have been ruled by a regime of austerity and in order to move on from it in any meaningful way HEADS MUST FUCKING ROLL starting with that of Theresa May, who just a few weeks ago thought she could crush all political opposition for good. If austerity is dead, then so are the careers of all those who, with staggering dishonesty and massive corruption, supported it in the first place. They have ruined millions of lives – and, given that without austerity, Brexit would be inconceivable, set in chain a series of consequences which may end up destroying peace between European nations – on the basis of an absolute lie.