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Saturday 10 April 2010

Will Anything Happen?

So, after Pa Broon has finally fired the starting gun for the 2010 General Election, and campaigning has ended its first week, what – if anything – can be deduced about the possible outcome? The opinion polls, with margins favouring Young Dave by up to 10%, suggest that the Tories will not only be the largest party, but should enjoy an overall majority. What will a Cameron Government do that is in any way distinctive or different?

So far, all that Young Dave and his chaps have committed themselves to doing is a reversal of increased National Insurance contributions that is in any case a year away, a token tax break to “recognise marriage in the tax system”, some kind of “National (Community) Service” which may or may not be compulsory (not a lot of people know that) and a “three strikes” approach to benefit fraud, which may have had greater credibility if anyone had ever been done for such an offence three times.

Which is rather like having to imagine the completed 1,000 piece jigsaw from a couple of dozen bits and bats. And we have to go back more than 30 years to the last time a Tory Government replaced a Labour one: then, Margaret Thatcher, enamoured of the economic quack doctory of Milton Friedman, pursued the idea of balancing the budget (a concept she was able to put in the simplistic manner of a housewife), which meant substantial spending cuts. Worse, the Friedman doctrine brought a temporary embrace of monetarism.

The result of Thatcher’s approach was that not only were public sector jobs shed, but also many in the private sector, as manufacturers starved of working capital by a tight money policy went out of business – never to return. Sure, the economy recovered, but that part of it that had been strongest before the cuts – the financial sector and the South East of England – benefited while much of the Midlands and North did not.

That the Friedman doctrine acted for the strong and against the weak should have come as no surprise: the Great Crash and the 1930s recovery had also seen the South East ultimately happy and prosperous, while much of the North East and Scotland suffered.

So will Young Dave repeat the Thatcher medicine? There will have to be cuts in public spending, whatever the stripe of the Government, but if the Tories are ready to give tax breaks while repealing rises in NI, those cuts will have to be more severe. And there should be no truck with those who window dress this as “efficiency savings”: job cuts are job cuts are job cuts, whatever the newspeak.

Margaret Thatcher, helped into power by a poster campaign with the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working”, demonstrated to the electorate that this was a uniquely sick joke by throwing another two million on the dole. Will Cameron follow suit? Just like his predecessor, little is being revealed of the wider purpose this side of the election.

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