Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement - The Wrong Spending, for the Wrong Reasons - Natalie Bennett

Pity George Osborne. Here's a politician who no longer believes in himself: yesterday's promises really are today's fish and chip wrapper.

Take the deficit. Back in 2010 he said he would eliminate the structural deficit by 2015. Today he admits that there is no prospect of this and blames the kinds of global factors his 2010 self said were nothing to do with the size of the deficit in the first place.

In fact the Office for Budget Responsibility now says that borrowing will be more than £90 billion this financial year - more than double what Osborne predicted in 2010.

Take spending. Back in 2010 he railed against "wasteful spending". Now he wants to increase it by frittering away £15billion of public money on building more roads - creating more traffic and pollution and locking Britain into a reliance on outdated, carbon-intensive technology for years to come.

Of all the possible 'pre-election giveaways' this is probably the most short-sighted and destructive thing the Chancellor could have announced.

He could have been implementing the Energy Bill Revolution, or something like it, to deliver warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes for Britain, lifting nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, creating up to 200,000 jobs and cutting carbon emissions. But instead it is now clear this government will complete its term in office with no effective programmes to deal with the poor quality of our housing stock and the resultant poverty, misery, and NHS costs.

Take climate change. In 2009 George Osborne believed in taking action to tackle global warming: "If I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe." But four years later he said: "I would love fracking to get going in the UK and I am doing absolutely everything I can to encourage it."

Today he froze fuel duty again and cut air passenger duty - two taxes that help to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check. And acts that will help the wealthier at the expense of poorer; poorer households are far less likely to have access to a car, and less likely to fly.

Surely no one sitting around the Cabinet table now really believes that this is "the greenest government ever". The Coalition has managed to exacerbate the environmental crisis rather than ameliorate it, and left Britain trailing way behind on renewable energy when the rest of the world is powering ahead.

But it could all have been so different.

The new Government had an unprecedented opportunity in 2010 - to remake an economy suffering from the effects of the financial crisis. It could have, as it initially talked about, rebalanced the economy towards manufacturing (and I'd add food production), reined in our fraud-ridden, out-of-control banking sector, and launched an effective crackdown on the corporate tax dodging that costs the country between £34billion (official HMRC figures) and £119billion (independent expert figures) a year.

Osborne's promises today on multinational tax-dodging are too little too late - and we'll have to look very carefully at the fine print to see how effective they are likely to be.

Instead, Osborne and his friends have locked millions of workers into poorly paid jobs offering little protection or forced, reluctant self-employment, sought to bolster rather than bury the fossil fuels industry, and increased the gap between the rich and the poor to Victorian levels. He's made the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the errors and fraud of the bankers for which they bear no responsibility at all.

The 'official opposition' appears to offer very little opposition to any of this at all - quietly accepting the Coalition's cuts to public spending and hoping a bit of tinkering around the edges will be enough to convince the public to return them to office.

Yet, the public seem less convinced by the failed politics and failed economics of the past than ever. What people do want to see is a credible alternative to austerity that holds out hope for the future and removes fear and insecurity from people's lives.

The Green Party offers real change, rather than clinging to a clearly unstable, unsustainable status quo. We believe social justice and environmental sustainability go hand in hand and that we can only build a more equal society by creating a green economy in which everyone has access to the resources for a decent quality of life.

We need that alternative. As opinion polls show clearly, the British people don't believe in George Osborne's 'long-term economic plan'. And nor, it seems, does he.

First published at the Huffington Post

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