Saturday, March 13, 2010

Layer 262 . . . Journos, Truth, and Cuts in Public Spending

In a way, yesterday's blog was a celebration of British journalism. Here are 3 people, Simon Jenkins, Mehdi Hasan and Michael Tomasky, writing about matters of huge importance with enormous skill and passion, and with clarity and objectivity. The truth matters, and it's difficult to disseminate the truth in a world where the media is owned, for the most part, by powerful rich people who have zero interest in examining objective reality with a dispassionate and unbiased eye.

These three writers have a bias, but it's a bias towards truth, justice and ethics, which can hardly be seen as a true bias. They have passion, but it's a passion for truth, justice and ethics.

Yesterday's blog was also a celebration of sorts of the Guardian. Simon Jenkins is a jewel in the Guardian's crown at the moment. Back in the early '90's (1990 - 92 to be precise) PJ was the editor of The Times, based in Wapping. So clearly he knows something about the views of The Establishment, and indeed those of Rupert Murdoch and the other press barons.

He's clearly not your average leftie or armchair radical. PJ's point of view ought to command attention and respect.

Michael Tomasky, writing as a 'liberal' American based in America, can offer a 'liberal' insight into the tragedy of American politics and the impossibility of a liberal president running the country by passing liberal legislation that's in line with the prospectus he was elected on.

Mehdi Hasan is not a regular Guardian contributor - he's the senior political editor at the New Statesman. What the Guardian is able to do is offer him a much deserved worldwide readership, since the editorial team at the Guardian obviously recognise he's saying something of enormous importance in this column. If radical and progressive ideas and ideologies don't prevail now they never will, with huge consequences for social justice, economics, progressive government, greater equality, etc.


Earlier this week Madeleine Bunting wrote an equally essential column in the Guardian:
Cuts rhetoric won't boost Labour hopes

This is territory long colonised by Thatcherite Tories, and would really draw blood among women and the low-paid

A collective delusion seems to have taken grip. Turn a radio on and the politicians are indistinguishable. All the talk is cuts, cuts, cuts. Listen to people talking and it's already an assumption – "when the cuts hit" is a given, no longer up for discussion. It's all done and dusted, then: the biggest spending cuts this country has ever experienced – which will put even those of the early 80s in the shade – have all been agreed. Have I been snoozing or did I miss it? This great political debate has happened by stealth, its conclusions passported into the stock of accepted wisdom with astonishing acquiescence.

It beggars belief that we can be so gullible.

We are drifting into an election dominated by a daft competition in macho rhetoric – slashing, savage, deep, swingeing etc. This is territory long colonised by the Thatcherite Tories, hardly a programme to stir Labour's dwindling activists into election canvassing.

The swiftly assembled political consensus on cuts is based on a series of assertions that can all be challenged – and is being, vigorously, by economists – which makes the politicians' meek acceptance all the more bewildering. A group of economic historians argue that the public debt is not historically high, or even particularly high compared with other developed nations.

Cambridge political historian David Runciman admits to being baffled by the enthusiasm for public spending cuts; he called his radio programme on the subject Turkeys Voting for Christmas.

Bizarrely, rather than discuss how to create jobs, all the parties are thinking of how to create more unemployment.

There was a fascinating analysis in a Compass report last autumn, In Place of Cuts, on how much money the government saves by axing a £25,000 public sector employee. After you've calculated for all the lost income tax and national insurance contributions, and then factored in all the benefits this sacked employee would receive on jobseeker's allowance, guess the grand total saved? Less than £2,000. And that is before one tries to put a figure on the wider social costs of unemployment – depression, rise in illness, risk of long-term withdrawal from the labour market. It's a no-brainer.

Beware public sector job cuts – reports of local authority cuts of a minimum of 10% last week would mean the loss of 500,000 jobs – are likely to have a disproportionate impact on women . . . Of the 1.1m new jobs taken up by women between 1997 and 2007, 80% were in the public sector.

Among these statistics are teaching assistants, community support workers, nurses, teachers, youth workers – all doing useful jobs and paying taxes. Why deprive us of their needed labour and push them into the demoralising idleness of jobseeking for non-existent jobs?

The recession is hitting certain groups hard; the Resolution Foundation report shows that low earners are bearing a disproportionate cost of this recession; they make up a third of the electorate, 9.4 million people with average household earnings of £15,800, and many are seeing a loss of income and a cut in working hours. With no capacity to save – they spend 41% of their income on essentials – they have little to fall back on in hard times.

Cuts in public sector employment could tip many of these vulnerable families over the edge, out of jobs and on to benefits: these are exactly the "hard-working families" championed in innumerable Labour speeches, yet this is where the "slashing" and the "savagery" of spending cuts would really draw blood. This election should be fought on how to save their jobs and create new ones for their children, instead of being hijacked by an old Thatcherite small-state agenda.

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