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Posted on 14 March 2018 at 16:19 GMT

Spring Statement 2018: Tory austerity staggers on despite economic and political weakness

photo Steve Leverett/CC

photo Steve Leverett/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Ross Saunders, Socialist Party national committee

No wonder people are pulling away, disgusted, from establishment politics. Chancellor Philip Hammond betrayed no sign that the agony wracking austerity Britain even crossed his mind when he drew up the government's Spring Statement.

Usually the chancellor's economic update - previously held in November and called the 'Autumn Statement' - is a kind of mini-budget, making some additions to the main plans announced on Budget Day.

But Hammond managed to spend his whole 20 minutes almost without announcing a single penny of new money for any purpose.

He was full of lame jokes about Winnie the Pooh characters, but empty of the funds our starving public services need to end the permanent crisis they are in.

He had nothing for public sector workers who have endured a decade of pay restraint, nothing for the legions of us struggling on zero-hour contracts, a pitiful response to the ever-growing housing crisis, and no answer to the dire warnings that austerity in our NHS is killing us.

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell was correct to ask parliament: "How many more people have to die waiting in an ambulance before he acts?"

Economy

Much of the big business press has colluded with the Tories to try and talk up the economy and the government's effect on it.

Frankly it was embarrassing to see analysts earnestly attempting to convince us that the small increase in projected GDP growth for this year - from 1.4% to 1.5% - represented what Hammond called "the light at the end of the tunnel." This anaemic recovery is only for the super-rich.

Hammond trumpets that the government is finally spending less than it receives. But while his excuse for continuing austerity is the public debt - due to hit 85% of GDP this year, the highest level since 1965 - its real aim is to erode any sense that the working class is entitled to public services and living wages.

Meanwhile, austerity has also compounded British capitalism's underlying problems. The same tired lies about record employment were rehearsed, with no mention of the epidemic of underemployment, insecure work, enslavement to the gig economy and flight from the sanctions regime in social security that are hidden in the figures.

These processes, coupled with failure to invest record profits, have shipwrecked productivity - the value created per hour of work - which is 16% behind the average across the leading 'G7' economies.

The Office for National Statistics also found in February that since the 2008 crash the trend is for workers to be forced into less productive jobs, in the service sector for example.

All this puts British capitalism in a very precarious situation when the next downturn comes.

The truth is that Britain's economy is still mired in the swamp the capitalist road has plunged it into. There will be no emerging from the filth without socialist policies.

The Tories are fragile and divided and only get away with austerity as usual because of the lack of a lead from the trade union leaders. The UCU strikers show the way: the unions must build for a coordinated fightback.


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 14 March 2018 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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