Tuesday 22 June 2010

Never Mind VAT - We Have No Control Over Economic Decisions

Budget days feel like election days - the names of the politicians and media commentators may be different from year to year, but they feel like events that most of us have little control over.

So it's undoubtedly true that in 2009 the Tories denied planning to increase VAT but have now reneged on that promise, whilst the Lib Dems were warning of a VAT 'bombshell' during the election and are now supporting George Osbourne's drastic plans. Frankly, however, none of this comes as much of a surprise, especially coming from a Tory-led government.

Today's reaction to the ConDem's first budget by the Westminster bubble-heads is long on speculation about whether VAT increases were avoidable or not, but something is still missing - any acknowledgement that at May's election, all the mainstream parties backed a neo-liberal consensus demanding tax rises, welfare cuts and severe reductions in spending. In March, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling admitted that if Labour had been re-elected, public spending cuts would have been tougher than anything imposed by Margaret Thatcher. Even promises to spread the pain over a longer period than the Tories was based on what were almost certainly over-optimistic forecasts about the future strength of the economy. Make no mistake - whoever had won in May, we would be facing a public sector pay freeze and an attack on benefits, no matter how much Labour supporters may try and pretend otherwise.

What also unites the Westminster parties is a desire for renewed economic growth without challenging the power of the City or the speculative casino economics of the financial markets. This means the circumstances that fuelled the disastrous banking crisis can very easily return, but no matter - better to focus on the impact of a Budget on individuals' pockets, as we always do, than on the undemocratic nature of economic power on us collectively as citizens. And let's not even start on the devastating consequences of unrestrained growth on our climate and the planet's finite resources.

Reading the unimaginative commentary on today's Budget, the near collapse of the global banking system in 2008 already seems like a long time ago - and whilst opposition in principle to attacks on workers' wages is important, we seem no closer to articulating a clear alternative to the consensus that says we must continue to subsidise the recklessness of the rich and powerful.

Budget days feel like every day - the names of the politicians and media commentators may be different from year to year, but most of us are no nearer to real control over our own lives.

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