Cameron fires starting gun on election scare tactics

Ebola: Is it really having a major effect on the international economy?
Ebola: Is it really having a major effect on the international economy?
Ian Dunt By

And so it begins. David Cameron fired the starting gun on the weird world of election scare tactics this morning with a piece in the Guardian warning the "red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy". For the next six months the Tories will regularly warn of international economic disasters in a bid to convince voters that they should stick with their "long-term economic plan".

Cameron could barely wait for the fourth paragraph before using the phrase. The economy is at threat from European stagnation, Ebola, and conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine. The British economy, by contrast, is booming because we have politicians who no longer think we can "spend, borrow and tax our way to prosperity".

He adds:

"Our long-term plan is backing business by scrapping red tape, cutting taxes, building world-class skills and supporting exports to emerging markets."

But the truth is rather different. We were once promised Britain would be back in the black by 2015, with the proceeds of growth being widely shared. The autumn statement, due on December 3rd, would have been a glorious climax of tax cuts and electoral sweeteners.

That's not what happened. We have not had a significant rise in unemployment this recession, but instead median wages have taken the brunt. Cameron's scrapping of red tape and regulations helps business pay poverty wages. There has been a boom in low-paid, insecure work, triggering a growing benefit bill for those who are in employment.

The Treasury likes to point to the mean wages vs productivity, so that very high earners are included in the figures. Ignore that. When you look at median wages, you see the decline in earnings next to productivity. Unregulated capitalism does not make a strong economy. It makes the rich richer. It does nothing to limit the welfare bill or support workers with the spending power to create demand in a consumer economy.

Using figures from the House of Commons library, Labour estimates another £25 billion will be needed for the social security budget, with most of it going to topping up poverty wages, dealing with the catastrophe at Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions, and increased demand for housing and disability benefit.

Take housing benefit. Since 2010 there has been a 50% rise in the number of people in work who are claiming it. That represents £1.4 billion. It is set to double by 2019. A government intent on cutting regulation and not building social housing has no answer to this problem, ether in the long or the short term.

On top of that, Cameron has to deliver his Disneyland conference speech promises, including raising the tax-free allowance from £10,500 to £12,500 and the 40p income tax rate to £50,000 by 2020. All of this is currently uncosted, which is another way of saying it will be distributed to middle-income earners by further savage cuts to Britain's social fabric. That's not a steady hand on the tiller, it's a nifty one in the back pocket of the poor.

For the next six months, this is what we're in for: the promotion of instability and failure abroad, combined with an absurdist appraisal of the strength of the economy at home. The former will be overstated, the latter will be mythical. One would be well advised to ignore the prime minister's scaremongering.


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