A price worth paying?

Much excitement among the liberal-left at the new government’s proposals to roll back some of the authoritarian legislation from the last decade (which I was bemoaning in a previous post). I agree with Charon QC that it’s a pity – no, make that shameful – that it takes a Conservative/Lib Dem government to reverse Labour’s record in this area, and share his hope that Labour will learn a lesson from this in opposition.

There are a number of other provisions in the ConDem coalition agreement which are also positive, or at least less bad than they might have been. And it’s encouraging to see the Human Rights Act’s prospects for survival improve with the appointment of Ken Clarke as justice secretary. (Clarke has described plans for a “British Bill of Rights” as “xenophobic and legal nonsense”.)

But the political reality of what we are in for with this government is found in the reference to “modest cuts of £6 billion to non-front line services” in the current financial year. This is a reminder that whatever else may be done by this government – and no doubt it will do some good things, as even the worst government usually manage – this is a coalition for cuts, and the politics of the next few years is going to be dominated by the Conservative and Lib Dem agreement for:

a significantly accelerated reduction in the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes.

The question for liberals is: are cuts and unemployment (because let’s not forget that even the harsh word “cuts” is itself a euphemism for “making people unemployed”) a price worth paying for a “Great Repeal Bill”?

I’m not saying that the civil liberties proposals are a bad thing, and I look forward to their being enacted (though I would remind people that governments are usually at their most liberal in their early months/years). What I am saying is: don’t get distracted from the real issues which face us under this government. Civil liberties are a genuine silver lining, one not to be dismissed, but that doesn’t make the cloud any less dark.

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6 thoughts on “A price worth paying?”

  1. Labour was proposing to deal with the deficit through two-thirds cuts to one-third tax rises. The reason is simple: the academic evidence favours cuts over tax rises if you want to deal with a deficit in a way which doesn’t do too much economic damage.

  2. Phil: I know, but there’s no doubt this government will cut faster, harder and deeper than a Labour government would have done. (And will also take the opportunity to settle some old political scores along the way: public sector unions, anyone?)

    And note that I’m talking about the new political reality here, about the dynamic of politics for the next five (ha!) years. In a parallel universe, Labour could have implemented its own plans for cuts and deficit reduction. But in the universe we have, it’s the Conservatives and Lib Dems who get to carry this out, and the questions of how they cut and what they cut are going to be the dominant issues of this parliament – that was my point.

    There are both opportunities and risks for Labour here. The main risk is that we end up being painted as the irresponsible voice of vested interests, as happened in the 1980s.

  3. I was reacting particularly to this question.

    The question for liberals is: are cuts and unemployment (because let’s not forget that even the harsh word “cuts” is itself a euphemism for “making people unemployed”) a price worth paying for a “Great Repeal Bill”?

    The unspoken assumptions seemed to be that cuts are an unnecessary evil, and that there was a straight trade-off at the election between ‘no cuts’ and ‘civil liberties’. I don’t think either of those assumptions is warranted by the evidence.

  4. No, my point was that liberals show signs of being so delighted by prospects for a Great Repeal Bill that they miss what is still going to be the dominant reality of this government: severe cuts that will need careful scrutiny, and in many cases – but by no means all – strong opposition, both because of their severity and because cost-cutting will be used as a pretext for politically-motivated actions. See, for example, “cutting the cost of politics” being used as a pretext for settling longheld Tory grievances about how constituency sizes are determined, or “ending the quango gravy-train” as a pretext for abolishing Ofcom (a move that will delight Rupert Murdoch).

  5. Yes, when the police come to evict me from the squat I’ll have to move into because I work in the public sector in a part-time administrative role (pretty damn non-essential = prime opportunity to make a saving) and the new poor laws, er, sorry, welfare reform, probably won’t allow me anywhere to live, I’ll be grateful I can at least take a picture of said police without fear of reprisal.

    Okay, I exaggerate. (I hope!) But, yeah.

  6. ruth – absolutely. the truth is that a home and livelihood is an unacknowledged human right. the freedom to buy is only of use if you have something to buy things with.

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