That is true—the Liberal Democrats gave us such warnings before the election.
Undeterred by the lessons of history and without an electoral mandate for such drastic cuts, the new Administration in the UK have proved to be the most extreme of the deficit hawks. They decided that dealing at breakneck speed with the deficit created by the banking crisis was more important than any other consideration, including protecting people against long-term unemployment or against cuts in vital public services. So, before the patient was long out of the emergency room, the Government decided to start administering a deficit reduction shock therapy that could end up being worse than the original illness. There is nothing in economic theory that dictates that Governments should plan to eliminate deficits in four years rather than eight.
The sheer scale and speed at which the Government have proceeded came as a surprise, not least to the 6.5 million people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. The Business Secretary warned about the dangers of cutting too far and too fast before the election, only to go along with the most savage cuts that we have had in the UK in peacetime straight after it. Meanwhile, in his speech to the Liberal Democrat Scottish conference last year, the Chief Secretary promised to
“create…jobs and boost the recovery”.
Instead, he has followed the example of the leader of his party when it comes to election promises—he has done the exact opposite of what he said he would do.
Just today, Mr Gary Millar, a councillor in Liverpool, has quit the Liberal Democrats in disgust over their broken promises. He said that he was once
“happy to call myself a Lib Dem, today they make me question my integrity and reputation.”
Like so many others, he feels personally betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, which is why they will face the wrath of an angry electorate next week.
At the time of the election last year, the economy had begun to improve from the depths of the banking-induced recession. Growth was up, inflation and unemployment were falling and borrowing had come in £20 billion better than forecast in the 2009 pre-Budget report. Formidable problems lay ahead, of course, but we were moving in the right direction and growth was seen as part of the solution.
Since the fiscal hawks rolled up at the Treasury, our economy, which was improving, has ground to a halt. Unemployment is higher, inflation is double the Bank of England target and the Chancellor has presided over a collapse in consumer confidence to lower levels than it reached in the depths of the 2009 recession, because he made the political choice to inflict on ordinary families the largest and longest squeeze in living standards since the 1920s. As the cost of living rises and wages fall, he has chosen to impose the increase in VAT, huge cuts in local services and a reduction in the support for child care that threatens to drive many women out of their jobs. His VAT increase alone will cost the average family with children £450 this year, far more than they will gain through increases to tax thresholds. Little wonder, then, that the Office for Budget Responsibility has downgraded the growth forecast again and again.
In his Budget speech, the Chancellor boasted:
“Our country’s fiscal plans have been strongly endorsed by the International Monetary Fund, by the European Commission, by the OECD, and by every reputable business body in Britain.”—[Hansard, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 951.]
The IMF has lowered its growth forecasts for the UK, however, and its head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has warned against cutting budgets too far, creating long-term unemployment and abandoning entire generations to a workless future with no hope. The recent interim OECD assessment of G7 economies predicted that the UK was expected to grow more slowly than any other G7 country except Japan, which has just been hit by powerful earthquakes, devastating floods and the ongoing battle against a nuclear disaster.