Tory Conference: Thatcherism is back

Posted on October 8, 2009 at 7:52 pm,

Following the media and blogosphere coverage of the Conservative Party Conference, I’m left with the impression that the Tory Party has abandoned all attempts to paint itself as anything other than the party that the country was desperate to see the back of back in 1997. Gone are attempts to spin the party as offering “Compassionate Conservatism” or as being eco-friendly. Instead, we have a party that is clearly looking to the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the interests of the poor, weak, and excluded. Like some other commentators, the Tory conference has left me very glad that I don’t support them.

I’m going to pull together a number of the policy announcements (yes, the Tories have policies for the first time since the last election) they made that show that the failed economics of the Thatcher/Major years are back at the heart of Tory thought. This post is intended as an overview of the whole thing, with links to more specific commentary elsewhere.

Firstly, Cameron said today that “more government got us into this mess”. He seems to have forgotten that “this mess” is a recession caused by banks exploiting a reduction in government regulation. The Tories also seem to have forgotten that the hole in the public finances is primarily due to the recession and can be solved by encouraging economic growth And shadow business secretary, Ken Clarke, wants to reduce regulation on business.

George Osborne seems to have adopted an economic theory apparently at odds with reality. He believes that high government debt levels are causing overseas investors to lose faith in the UK, when actually it seems as if investors are happy to back Britain. In any case, Britain’s level of public debt isn’t as high, in historical terms, as the big three parties are making out. Furthermore, talking about cutting public spending in the middle of a recession is somewhat at odds with what reputable economists will tell you. It took massive government spending to end the Great Depression of the 1930s, and attempts to curb it by cutting spending early on simply made things much much worse.

In the detail of his speech, Osbourne proposed reforms of the welfare system which would most likely harm the poorest. He wants to shift people from incapacity deficit to jobseeker’s allowance – thus cutting their income, but proposed nothing that would significantly increase their chances of getting a job. In fact, their proposals seem to be mostly a rehash of what already exists, plus an incentive to new small businesses that would disadvantage existing companies, hence undermining the goal of job creation. Given that there are already people who are unfit to work who have been refused incapacity benefit this comes across as somewhat heartless. And when you consider that, in the same speech, he effectively said that he would like to cut the new top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 as soon as he possibly can, it seems even more so.

Another thing that seems to indicate that the Tories are only considering the rich is their council tax pledge – saying that the average family will save £200 on their council tax bill by imposing a council tax freeze means that the Tory definition of average is the richest 20%.

This last point, however, offers a ray of hope that they don’t mean all of what they say. If you’re trying to reduce a government deficit, then you don’t promise a de facto tax cut. In fact, if you’re serious about reducing the deficit then you should be proposing tax increases.

It’s also worth noting that many Tories on a local level seem to be taking the opposite track to those in Whitehall. Here in Coventry, for example, the Tory council are planning to waste one billion pounds on an incinerator that nobody wants. We can but hope that the Tories aren’t as committed to overly harsh cuts as they are trying to make out.

3 Comments

  1. Steve
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Respectfully I could not disagree with you more.

    Our current problems are not caused by banks, they were caused by governments and it is the product of a policy of unsound money carried on for years. Money supply has been allowed to increase at rates well in excess of inflation and productivity growth. Only governments and central banks can create excess money and excess credit. Excess money is corrosive. It causes speculation and poor lending. Incompetent, poorly regulated banks then did the rest.

    Why would you want more regulation when regulation has so signally failed? Instead of bailing out bank managers, shareholders and bondholders, it is these people who should have taken the hit. As it is it is savers by and large who are subsidising the nonsense. Have you had a look at your bank charges recently?

    Britian is over borrowed on any sensible analysis. That is when you include its unfunded liabilities such as public sector pensions (GBP 1.2 trillion) and the support for the banking system (GBP 1,3 trillion). Also an annual borrowing requirement of norwards of GBP 200 billion is unsustainable, as is unfunded government spending of a quarter of total expenditure.

    Low tax creates economic growth. Simple tax increases tax yields. This has been proven again and again. It also creates self-reliance, not dependance. However, it is not an option available from any political party.

    Welfare represents a very serious social and moral problem. Like excess money it is corrosive, ruining lives. Just look around you. Something must be done to reduce welfare dependancy. This has a very strong biblical warrant. Paul is quite clear on the importance of work to the point it is an act of worship [Col 3:23-24]. From the beginning we were commanded to work [Gen 2:15]. You work so you can give to those genuinely in need [Eph 5:28]. Paul uses the example of a genuinely needy widows of where to direct our giving (not may I add State entitlements) [1 Tim 5:3-16].

    I do not think we can spend our way out of being excessively borrowed on either a national or an individual level. Sound money requires living within our means. That in turn necessitates higher taxes on everybody (it would be nice if it were just the rich, however short of expropriation the rich do not yeild up additional taxes easily or cheaply), lower government spending, both bad for growth, and the debasement of the currency, a subsidy by the prudent for the feckless.

    I would agree that the present Conservatives do not appear to have the answers to address the predicament we find ourselves in. It is ahead because of the performance of the present government, which is one of the poorest administrations Britain has ever had. You have to return to the eighteenth century to find comparables. It is not the recession that is the problem, recessions are an economic necessity, it is the recklessness with which the economy has been managed for many years which leaves us particularly vulnerable to difficult economic times.

    I think much of this is part of the secular materialistic state that is modern Britain. Living beyond our means is simply living off others. This is obviously wrong. We are supposed to give and give generously not receive [2 Cor 9:6-9]. In this case our children and grandchildren are the ones who will be paying for us trying to avoid reducing our excessive consumption.

    What a mess! I pray that the authorities over us behave with more responsibility in the future. But I am not hopeful.

    God bless.

  2. Stephen Gray
    Posted October 9, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    Yes, the increase in the money supply is down to government policy, but it’s not government that’s creating the extra money. That’s mostly done by private banks being unrestricted in ways they can turn the money invested with them into new money that doesn’t have to be in the form of notes or coins. The simplest example of this is how they only have to keep a small proportion of the money deposited with them and can lend the rest out. That is then put into a bank account, and can be lent out again – creating several times the money that they started with.

    As for regulation, the credit crunch could not have happened if the US government hadn’t scrapped some of the regulation created during the Great Depression, allowing the subprime market to be so profitable. When there is a failure of regulation, as with bank charges, it is usually because either the regulations or the regulator have been weak.

    As for low taxes producing economic growth, that isn’t a hard and fast rule. It is true in some, but not all, cases. In fact, pre-1980 – when economic policy was dominated by Keynesian (state intervention) economics world GDP grew at a rate of 4.8%. But post-1980, when it was dominated by neo-liberal (low tax, low state intervention) economics, it only grew at a rate of 3.2%. Certainly high levels of state spending were what ultimately took the Western World out of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    And whilst I totally agree about the moral imperative to work, cutting welfare payments won’t get people back to work. In the middle of a recession, even those who really want to work can’t, making attempts to deal with those who don’t or can’t somewhat pointless.

    Those who are genuinely dependant on benefits need help to get them back into work. Many live in communities where there haven’t been jobs since Thatcher effectively closed down the local industry and others don’t have the skills needed to get or hold down a job even in an economic boom. Cutting their benefits isn’t going to solve the problem, it needs something more. The best solution to the problem is to plant good, strong churches in these communities and see these people saved and properly discipled. But until there are both jobs and a changed culture, getting these people off benefits not going to happen.

    God bless

  3. Steve
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Governemnts can stop banks creating credit by increasing reserve requirement. Only gvernments and central banks can do this.

    Yes, President Clinton removed all the restrictions of Glass saegal and they should be reimposed.

    People must search for jobs. The jobs Mrs. Thatcher removed happened many years ago. They are nor going to return.

    I cannot agree with you more that what people need more than anythig else is the Gospel. That alone would encouage an effort that would get them back to work.

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