Remember David Cameron's shiny-faced pledge to 'cut the deficit, not the NHS'? Of course you do. Like a badly-airbrushed ghost, Cameron's pledge has came back to haunt him recently in the wake of the reforms to the NHS spearheaded by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. But there's another reason to keep Dave's promise in mind: because, even as his health reforms begin the slow destruction of one of the greatest achievements of postwar Britain, an uncomfortable fact has come to light that - for any rational observer - casts doubt on the Tories' whole cuts programme.
Put simply, it isn't that Cameron can't cut the deficit without cutting the NHS; in fact, despite all the cuts he and his chancellor George Osborne push through, they can't cut the deficit either.
The False Economy blog has the facts:
'The latest official data for public borrowing show a sharp monthly rise to £9.9bn – a record for April. They also show that the government’s cuts policy has failed to work even for its stated objective: reducing the deficit.'
They further note that there was a fall in the deficit over the course of the previous year, but Dave and Gideon have kept schtumm about that because of an inconvenient truth:
'...the trend towards lower deficits has largely been ignored because they have nothing to do with government ‘austerity’ measures. The improvement in the deficit began in April 2010. The election didn’t take place until a month later and the Comprehensive Spending Review didn’t take place until October. During that time government spending was largely untouched.'
In other words, the fall in the deficit was the work of...Labour. The bad old previous Labour administration which, we've been told again and again, ran Britain into the ground, 'maxed out the national credit card' and left us with 'no money left'...actually initiated the policies which brought down a deficit caused, let's not forget, by the greatest economic crisis since the Depression of the 1930s. Not bad going for a supposed bunch of spendthrifts.
Whereas the hard-headed (and harder-hearted) cost-cutting of Messrs Cameron and Osborne, far from pulling us out of the deficit, has made it even worse:
'...central government borrowing is £2.6bn higher than last April’s total of £10.5bn...what we are seeing now is just the effect of initial cuts, plus falling confidence. Things are about to get worse and those arguing for even deeper cuts would make them worse still.'
So a government which failed to win an election has also failed to achieve its stated aim of reducing the deficit. But don't expect them to reverse course anytime soon. As many have pointed out, deficit reduction has always been little more than a cover for the Tory-led government's real goal of reimposing their brutal, Thatcherite ideology on the country. The announcement today that the government's new sexual health advisory panel will be advised by an anti-abortion group gives a flavour of just how distasteful that ideology is.
This morning, at a momentary loss for something to read, I pulled my copy of the Rapid Eye Movement anthology from the shelves and reread Simon Dwyer's article, 'Brazil'. Named after the Terry Gilliam film, Dwyer's long essay is a detailed examination of Britain under Tory rule in the 1980s. A country in which civil liberties are curtailed, opposition is spied upon, sexual minorities are persecuted, media are censored and the populace are 'educated to once more know their place' by a government in harness to neoliberal free-marketeers and what Dwyer rightly calls the 'pseudo-Christianity' of fundamentalist outfits like the sinisterly-named Festival of Light.
And now, in Britain 2011, a Tory-led government, helped into power by a media machine which hacks into innocent peoples' voicemail, imposes a neoliberal, 'shock doctrine' financial ideology on the country to help bankers get richer, talks of abolishing the Equality and Human Rights Acts, and tries to limit womens' right to abortion and introduce abstinence-only sex education to schools while restricting access to further and higher education on an unimaginable scale.
David Cameron can airbrush his face all he wants, but the ideology of the worst parts of the Tory party never changes. The deficit was only ever an excuse to implement policies driven by that ideology. Now the figures prove Tory policies have failed to reduce it, the deficit excuse will be quietly dropped, and a new justification for the programme will be found. But whatever it is, that justification will be as false as the deficit lie: because, in a country where a majority didn't vote for the current administration's policies - and where even those who did vote Tory voted them in on the basis of promises Cameron had no intention of keeping - the wholesale destruction of the NHS, state education, and civil liberties on which they are embarked can never be justified.