Phil Riley: George Osborne wants to take us back to the 1930s

The Autumn Statement is when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives an indication of his long-term economic targets and, in the Autumn Statement released just before Christmas, George Osborne surprised some commentators by saying that his long term aim was to get spending by the state back to levels not seen since the 1930s. Now that’s an interesting target. After the great financial crash of 1929, a major economic depression gripped much of Europe and, indirectly, contributed to the Second World War. Amongst other events, the 1930s is famous for the Jarrow march when unemployed men from the North East of England marched to London to draw attention to their plight. It’s also the time when there was no National Health Service and families had to work out whether they could afford to pay for the doctor before asking for a visit.
The experiences of many ordinary people during that time led to the election of the Labour government in 1945 and to the establishment of what has become known as the welfare state set up to ensure that, when the nation enters a time of economic difficulty, hardship for the individuals and families hardest hit is softened to ensure that there is, at least, some food on the table and some warmth in the house. 
Anyone who has been watching the course of events over the last four years will have realised that the coalition government no longer believes that, in times of economic difficulty, hardship should be shared out. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are quite content for the burden to fall hardest on particular groups whilst other sections of society continue to do very well. That’s why economic inequality is growing at a pace that worries everyone except the rich and their apologists in the government and that’s why bankers are still getting huge bonuses whilst pay rises for ordinary workers are almost non-existent and benefits are being cut.
And now, to cap it all, George Osborne tells us that, instead of the 1930s being a decade of shame, they represent an economic target! If you get the chance to talk to a Tory or a Liberal Democrat, ask them which features of the 1930s they would bring back to support the reduction in state spending so desired by the Chancellor – paying for the doctor, maybe? Soup kitchens for the unemployed? Even deeper cuts in benefits?

Author: Phil Riley

Phil Riley is Secretary of Blackburn Labour Party and election agent to Jack Straw.

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