Monday 3 October 2016

Meet the New Chancellor ...

... much the same as the old chancellor. "Call me Philip" Hammond didn't apply smug factor 50 before his speech to Tory party conference, but he didn't need to. Beneath the boring exterior and the truly, truly awful jokes is a politician whose programme is little different to his unlamented predecessor's. Yes, in tune with his boss's whole nation conservatism, Hammond has woken up to the role the state can play in stimulating the economy and making things a wee bit better. That said, so had Osborne. Before his unceremonious disposal, the deficit and austerity had largely become political window dressing* for a more, how should we say, sensible approach to economic management. The slower, steadier austerity of the old Darling plan necessity forced on Osborne in 2012 had given way to a Keynesian-lite iteration of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Not that it was politic to admit this.

And so Hammond is picking up where Osborne had left off. Nevertheless, for politics watchers the speech was entertaining as a plod along a tightrope can be. The long-term economic plan, which never existed, has found itself replaced by the "flexible and pragmatic" plan. A phrase that won't be finding its way to a leaflet near you, Hammond's message, like Osborne's previous trajectory, has economic and political necessity stamped all over it. One of the architects of Tory austerity, Hammond was keen to lay claim to the book balancing rhetoric that served Dave well. Making sure the public finances are sorted is a top, but not the top priority of his economic strategy. And for good measure, he had a go at the "la-la-land" (his words) approach of John McDonnell. Apparently, borrowing while interest rates are at historic lows is not the thing to do, but of which more momentarily. In practice, the Tory manifesto surplus commitment has got itself kicked into the long grass along with all the other decisions May has singly avoided these last three months. Yet for those Tories mono-maniacally wedded to cuts and small-statism, provided they don't look too deeply (and the odd sacrificial lamb is hauled onto the slab), there was enough rhetorical gruel here to keep them sated. After all, with all May's party management problems, she can ill-afford a division opening up on economics.

With the right flank covered for now, the Keynesian turn addresses two pressing problems. If Brexit isn't going to mean wrexit, the state has to intervene to stabilise British capitalism. As overseas investment is likely to wind down once negotiations get underway and given the PM's idiot preference for a hard Brexit, insulating the economy from shocks is a big ask. Unpicking commercial ties and supply chains built up over 40 years of EU membership is as uncertain an endeavour as it is fiendishly difficult. Oh, and remember that thing called the world economy? Instability there hasn't gone away either. Undoing Britain's ties to the EU would be hard at the best of times, but should a new tsunami of crisis break over the world economy then things could get very messy indeed. Having the state undertake industrial activism now and into the immediate future to meet housing demand, provide investment, and sort out the productivity puzzle (which really isn't much of a puzzle).

Then there's political positioning vis a vis Labour. The media and assorted "friends" of the party may have written it off, but May certainly hasn't. Remember - again, that thing: memory - how she made a splash when she told her party they were seen as "the nasty party", and that was the root of their electoral woes. She hasn't forgotten this, despite running stunts like her universally-panned racist van. And neither have other smart lieutenants like Robert Halfon, one of the few Tories who tries to understand his opponents in their own terms. Having seen public opinion swing away from the Tories on tax credits and disability cuts, and a sense that politics is no longer "normal", Hammond's economics must work toward the political centre. And as that is more to the left than in the times of Blair, Brown, and Dave, failure to do so would give Labour an opportunity to define the debate. Don't forget, we've already had some success here despite a year of damaging in-fighting.

A country that works for everyone is the Tory conference slogan, but a paternalist concern for those at the sharp end of crisis and Brexit is entirely absent from the rollercoater ride we're about to embark upon. The bottom line is the bottom line: the preservation of British capital, and the Tory party's place as its chosen political vehicle.

*Only largely, because local government can still look forward to a difficult time.

1 comment:

BCFG said...

Politically it is always to the advantage of the Tories to create an underclass, so poverty targets go out of the window when they are in power. Driving a section of the population into destitution is an active policy goal for the Tories, which is why austerity was such an opportunity for them, as was the previous years of New Labour attacks on the underclass (though I accept New Labour had different motives). But Tory policy also coincides with the interests of the top 20% of society, who want a divided and disciplined workforce.

By creating a permanent and stable underclass this makes the working class feel middle class, and gives them a feeling of an elevated status within society. If the working class can see a sizable underclass then the affect is to bind the working class to their lord and masters, so the working class forms an alliance with the upper classes. This is obviously in the interest of status quo parties, though it is more beneficial for the Tories. The Tories endless talk about hard working families is designed to draw the dividing line between the underclass and everyone else. This tactic works very well. Tory electoral woes have been massively over-exaggerated. The real time of reckoning has been for the useless and pointless centrists who are nothing but right wingers with a very small twist of social democracy. People like Corbyn offer the only escape from this reality.

Austerity was never about 'balancing the books' but was and is an ideological project aimed at the most vulnerable. It also allowed for an attack on the Public sector, a goal which for the Tories long precedes the global financial crash.

Currently the BBC are creating a new division via old and young workers. They are implanting in peoples minds the idea that the old are living off the young. So Youth unemployment is the fault of workers dignity in old age.

The media's role in shaping and creating subjects obedient and pliable cannot be overstated, what else can explain Theresa May's popularity other than media coverage? Well done boys, what a job you have done!

On international issues the picture looks even bleaker and the media even more debased! Every disastrous piece of imperialist war mongering is lapped up by the masses despite the utter disastrous policies being still very much in the immediate memory.