My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about confidence and sentiment in the economy transmitting their way into the real figures through their effect on demand.
Even those who gave their personal stamp of approval to the Chancellor’s aggressive cuts agenda last year in a letter to The Daily Telegraph are now voicing their doubts about weak growth. Ex-Tory MP Archie Norman is worried that the Government’s growth predictions are too optimistic and former Asda boss Luke Bond is predicting a two-year retail recession, which picks up on the point that my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins has just made.
The Government are going too far too fast, and we are paying the price in lost jobs and slower growth. Their phobia about the deficit means they are cutting public expenditure much further and faster than any other major economy. They have made deficit reduction the only thing that matters, regardless of how terrible its social or economic effects will be; they appear to be blind to the lessons of history; they refuse to listen to public concern; and they fail to recognise the absolute necessity of re-establishing growth to get the deficit down. Without growth, austerity measures simply make the deficit worse and impoverish the society they are inflicted on. The Chancellor should, as he so notoriously lectured us in February 2006, “Look and learn from across the Irish sea”. Ireland is on its fourth austerity budget with no end in sight. The evidence shows that all the countries that implemented drastic austerity measures saw their economies go into reverse in the fourth quarter of 2010. Those economies shrank in Greece by 1.4%, in Iceland by 1.5%, in Ireland by 1.6%, in Portugal by 1.5% and in the UK by 0.5%. In contrast, both the German and the American economies grew.
The Chancellor is not solving the problem; he is in danger of making it worse. The day after the Budget, the ratings agency Moody’s embarrassed the Government by suggesting that the UK’s triple A rating might be at risk not because of the deficit but because of slower growth. I would take any pronouncement from the rating agencies with a very large pinch of salt, as they are hugely compromised by the part they played in making the banking crisis worse and they need to be reformed, but, unlike the Chancellor, we have neither made their flawed and partial judgments the central justification for our economic policies nor installed them as the most important judges of our success by giving a dangerous credence to the fiction that the UK’s ability to finance its debts is at risk for reasons of petty party politicking. Their influence makes the inconvenient point for the Government’s political cuts narrative that growth is equally important to successful deficit reduction. Without growth, the deficit will not be sustainably reduced.