Now that a few days has passed since the Chancellor unveiled the first Conservative-only Budget since 1996, it’s time to take a sober look at the contents of his red briefcase now that the dust has settled. What happened on Wednesday was a piece of expertly planned political theatre from a postmodern politician crafting an overall narrative of the Conservative Party as becoming the party of labour as well as maintaining its role as the party of capital. This narrative is reinforced by Osborne’s appropriations of left-wing policies and Orwellian doublespeak in attempt to confuse the electorate into accepting what the government says as true, regardless of the actual facts.
A famous quote from history is the following: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.” Once the person who uttered these words is revealed the comparison its relation to the Budget must not be ignored as the quote illustrates how successful the Conservatives have been in misleading the British people. When this quote from Joseph Goebbles, the Nazi Minister for Propaganda, is looked upon by us in the modern era it demonstrates how authoritarian regimes of history have managed to manipulate people in order to carry out their governmental programme.
The Conservative Party in collaboration with the right-wing newspaper media have managed to convince a significant proportion of the population that Labour politicians are unable to manage the economy, with a right-wing government the only option to ensure economic growth and fiscal responsibility. This lie was able to take root through linguistic tricks based on falsehoods that the average voter will not take the time to fact-check, with this whole political ‘wisdom’ unable to be challenged as Labour was leaderless after the 2010 General Election.
In the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the other war-hawks that supported the invasion planted seeds of misinformation into the political consciousness of the American people; they would very rarely lie directly to people when asked however would associate words such as ‘Iraq’ and ‘Saddam’ with ‘9/11’ and ‘al-Qaeda’ thus creating the false illusion that Iraq was somehow involved with the attacks on September 11th 2001. As a consequence a YouGov poll in 2003 saw the American people supporting the invasion of Iraq by an overwhelming margin (69%) and a Gallup poll in September 2003 showed that a majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had personally ordered the September 11th attacks (71%). How is this relevant to the Budget? Over the last five years the British people have been bombarded with the press and politicians with the ‘truth’ that Labour crashed the economy and that Britain was in recession because Labour had overspent; it was therefore necessary for the Tories to be swept into power to sort out the mess that Labour had created because the Tories were the party of economic competence.
The first charge against Labour was that they had overspent and that the Tories wouldn’t have been so reckless with the public finances. However in 2007 the Tories had agreed to Labour’s spending plans and years earlier still advocated the regulatory practises of Thatcherism but stating the economic growth of Britain could be increased by industrial deregulation, particularly of the financial sector. If the Tories had been in charge they would probably not have spent as much money in regards to investment in schools and welfare payments, which incidentally improved a number of peoples lives, and also probably wouldn’t have introduced the minimum wage. On the other side of the coin, they would have cut taxes for businesses and massively deregulated the banking system allowing for an even greater concentration of wealth in the City of London whilst exposing the rest of the economy to even more volatile risk.
Because of the resignation of Gordon Brown after the 2010 General Election Labour was unable to provide this counter-narrative of the Tories rewriting history for ideological reasons, enabling the Tory talking points to be engrained in the collective political consciousness of the electorate. This is why when Ed Miliband appeared on Question Time before the 2015 General Election and he was asked whether Labour had overspent or not, his answer of ‘no’ was met with groans from the audience because Conservative propaganda had been effective in convincing people that Labour was economically innumerate.
The second aspect of the Budget that was politically ingenious was how Osborne continued to feed into the Conservative narrative of economic competence by doing savage cuts to the welfare bill as proposed in the 2015 Tory manifesto, but also promoting this new emerging line of the Conservative Party being the party of the workers. How do you portray yourself as the party of labour? You steal the actual party of labour’s policies, neutralising dissent from the official opposition party who once again is leaderless and unable to challenge Tory propaganda.
As well a minimising opposition, the Tories can play into their overarching theme of their supposed economic competence as they’ve implement popular policies, they cannot be criticised by Labour because they’ve implemented policies that Labour supported, and if Labour muster any opposition the Tories can defer to their standard piece of rhetoric: “What would you do?”, which of course is now even more devastating because now Labour’s policies have been implemented, they have to come up with new ones, allowing the Tories free reign for the next few months to portray Labour as without a credible economic alternative and that the Tories were now the party of the workers.
On policy specifics permanent ‘non-dom’ status has been reform, which wouldn’t have happened if Labour hadn’t made a big deal of it, an 8% bank surcharge has been implemented even though independent investment group Shore Capital has shown that HSBC alone will see a £700 million reduction in tax, and a vague promise regarding a tax avoidance clampdown.
The centrepiece of the Budget was the introduction of the ‘National Living Wage’ which will see the minimum wage rise to £9 per hour across the country by 2020; Osborne could have decided to just say the minimum wage will rise, but he felt the need to re-brand it as the ‘National Living Wage’ for one big reason: he wants to say to people that he introduced the ‘National Living Wage’ which is another attempt to have the phrase ‘Living Wage’ associated with him in an Orwellian act of language redefinition. It is of course important to point out that the increase in the minimum wage will not become a living wage for a number of years, with the current living wage in London at £9.15 per hour which can only increase with inflation. The increase in the minimum wage was also convenient for the Chancellor because it allows him to cut corporation tax, which is already the lowest in the G20, and sells it to voters as allow businesses extra money to spend on wages, but it really allows Osborne to a little bit of money to his friends and political donors.
As well as the cut in corporation tax Osborne unveiled other traditional Tory favourites particularly £12 billion of welfare cuts and £20 billion in departmental spending; according to a much publicised report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the rising minimum wage will not compensate for the cuts to working tax credits leaving the claimants up to £1,000 a year worse off.
Although facts show the Chancellor hasn’t achieved his objective it is irrelevant because the report will be forgotten by the electorate relatively quickly whereas the narrative of the Conservatives supporting working people instead of Labour who are only concerned with people on benefits.
Finally it was announced that the Chancellor is seeking a review of the Sunday trading laws to allow all shops to be open on Sundays; the current laws allow for small shops to open on Sundays but not larger shops, which would seem to suggest that the Chancellor is endeavouring to allow big businesses to make more in profits at the expense of smaller enterprises. On a broader cultural point, the Chancellor’s priorities illustrate his desire to feed the consumeristic demands of the British people, saddling them with more debt and material enviousness which in turn makes them scared of financial distress and easier to control with the Tory claims of Labour’s economic incompetence.
The most obvious aspect of the Budget that was widely reported in the mainstream media was how the Chancellor had launched an attack upon young people whilst implementing policies that benefited the elderly. The Inheritance Tax threshold was increased to exempt £1 million houses from being taxed, which further points to who the Chancellor is most concerned about, and as many left-wing MPs have said since the Budget was announced the constituents that they represent don’t have many £1 million houses to pass down to maintain Britain’s economic inequality for another generation.
Maintenance grants, the only remaining vestige of the universal higher education given to the people such as the Chancellor, were replaced with loans shifting even more debt onto students and deterring people from low income backgrounds from attending university. Similarly Osborne will enable universities with ‘high-quality teaching’ to raise tuition fees in line with inflation, as well as beginning a consultation about freezing the loan repayment threshold for five years thus increasing the amount graduates would have to pay back.
However the more sinister aspect of this was not pitting the elderly against the young, turning the academically-minded youth against the youth in employment. Young people in work are perceived to have benefited greatly from the budget due to the increase in the minimum wage, even if the ‘Living Wage’ doesn’t affect people under 25; students and workers under 25 did not benefit from the Budget which is another attempt by Osborne to portray the Tories as the champions of working people, not those intellectual elites in the Bullingdon Club.
On the economics of the Budget, I believe that the Chancellor has the wrong priorities focussing on the needs of businesses and the elderly over the needs of workers young people. As many economists throughout history have pointed out a better educated workforce increases the productivity of an economy, yet the Chancellor decides to put up more barriers to increased education at a time when low-productivity is the main reason that the economic ‘recovery’ has been the slowest in 314 years.
The politics of the Budget, from an objective standpoint, were a stroke of genius, even if the strategy implemented will see the systematic decimation of British society over the next five years. By implementing Labour policies at a time when they are leaderless and unable to forge a counter-narrative Osborne has managed to appropriate all of their popular policies whilst reinforcing the idea of the Tories being significantly better at managing the economy. Osborne has been able to establish the Tories as the party of labour as well as the party of capital which will embolden him to pass legislation restricting trade unions on the justification that it will be good for working people (who aren’t in unions).
Politically speaking, Osborne’s implementation of Labour policies also challenges the idea of the Lib Dems being a moderating force preventing the cruelness of the Tories from being unleashed because most of the headlines about the Budget were reported in the overwhelmingly Tory press as helping the average worker as well as the small business owner, which is territory that the Lib Dems had always tried to monopolise.
The Chancellor’s implementation of popular cuts to welfare also enable him to deliberately misinform people; the last parliament saw the implementation of the Bedroom Tax which disproportionately affected disabled people and this Budget had a great opportunity to reverse the abolition of the Independent Living Fund, a grant specifically for people who are very disabled in order for them to live independent lives. These cuts will have a hugely negative impact upon the most vulnerable in society yet they are not reversed because the Chancellor touts welfare cuts as necessary in order to help the vulnerable in the long-term, which is popular as most people want to be compassionate to the vulnerable.
I do not know whether George Osborne explicitly wants the disabled to suffer in order to bring down the welfare budget, however I am confident that in terms of a sociopathic political calculation that weighs the well-being of the disabled against wider electoral support for reducing welfare spending Osborne would rather do the latter so he can move next door in 2020.