If the New Labour years were the “nice years” with ever increasing levels of public expenditure, is the Cameron / Clegg era, and the associated big cuts the “new dark age”?
Brendan Barber, the current moderate, likeable, and effective General Secretary of the TUC warned on the opening day of the annual Trades Union Congress conference 2010, on 13 September:
“that big cuts would make Britain a dark, brutish and more frightening place.”
The opening of the TUC’s 142nd congress – the first under a non-Labour government since 1996 – comes amid concern among trade unions about the speed and scope of the coalition’s programme to reduce the £155bn public sector deficit. Most Whitehall departments have been ordered to plan for savings of between 25% and 40% ahead of the comprehensive spending review of Wednesday 20 October 2010.
Delegates debated a motion calling for the TUC’s General Council to “support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services”. Different unions are threatening to call strikes on the same day(s) if the cuts are not scaled back however legislation brought in by the Thatcher government make it very difficult for unions to create a second “winter of discontent”.
The TUC’s view is that the cuts were necessary to pay for the deficit and said they were a “savage and opportunistic attack on public services” which “goes far further than even the dark days of Thatcher”.
Mr Barber added: “These are not temporary cuts, but a permanent rollback of public services and the welfare state. Not so much an economic necessity as a political project driven by an ideological clamour for a minimal state.”
In fairness the current Government maintains, (and opinion polling data seems to indicate that the public supports this approach at least for now), that such cuts are necessary in order that the markets continue to lend to the UK and we do not have Greek style junking of our national credit rating. The political choice they have made in prioritising reducing the deficit and eradicating it within four years does mean that the Government will probably be seen as the “government of cuts” and its time in office as the “age of austerity” by future historians. Cameron and Clegg have spotted this and are trying to talk positively about the economy and the society they wish to create post cuts, but such is the scale of the cuts that it is inevitable that its time in office will be seen through this prism. And its political opponents will seek to label’s its term in office, as Sir Winston Churchill put it: “a new dark age”.
Chris Kelsey @ccat446