Cuts have fuelled the recession because they have driven demand out of the economy. Getting the economy growing again, as I said, is the key to cutting the deficit, then stabilising and bringing down the debt burden. Once the economy is growing again, it will be much easier to deliver any remaining tax rises or spending cuts that may still be necessary because, as Jonathan Portes says, jobs will be plentiful, real incomes will rise and companies will invest again.
The Tory charge is that Labour would increase borrowing. The answer is, yes, in the short term, we would, but to reduce borrowing in the long term. Borrowing more today can mean borrowing less tomorrow by getting the economy growing again. President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package added to the US federal deficit in the short term, but as US interest rates fell, spending and output rose, and dole queues shortened. As a proportion of America’s expanding GDP, its overall deficit has shrunk every year since 2009, contrary to what has happened to our deficit. A budget boost that triggered real recovery in Britain could follow the same pattern, speeding up the growth of UK national income, cutting the deficit as a proportion of GDP and causing the debt burden to fall.
That is what the Budget should have been about, but old habits die hard as the coalition partners continue to peddle their big deceit. First, they said that the entire global banking crisis was caused by Labour recruiting far too many nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers, and that the trigger for the world financial collapse—sub-prime mortgage defaults in the USA—was all Labour’s fault. The second big deceit is their claim that today’s public sector deficit was caused by excessive Labour spending. To quote utterances of almost every Conservative MP as if on a dreary looped tape, too much Labour borrowing led to too much national debt, so the cuts are all Labour’s fault. They never admit the truth. They never say why, if spending was “out of control” and wildly excessive, the Chancellor in September 2007 committed a Tory Government to matching Labour’s public spending plans for the next three years, up to 2010.
The Chancellor knew only too well that Labour’s spending was affordable, otherwise he would not have signed up to that. The Tories never acknowledge that, until the global banking crisis, British Government debt was low, below that of France, Germany, the USA and Japan, and lower than when we took over from the Tories in 1997. Ten years of steady economic growth under Labour allowed us to pay down debt by the equivalent of £90 billion today, saving taxpayers some £3 billion a year in interest payments. We did fix the roof while the sun was shining.
Between 1997 and 2007, annual Labour borrowing averaged only one third of annual borrowing by the Thatcher and John Major Governments. This is the fourth dreadful Budget by a dreadful Government. It is the same old story from the same old Tories: Budget day blues for Britain. The Chancellor is playing a peculiar game of leapfrog with himself. Every Budget brings worse news. Every autumn statement confirms that things are worse than expected. The Government are failing on growth, failing to improve living standards, and failing on their debt, borrowing and deficit targets. They have got to make way for Labour.