Thursday, 24 June 2010

Nothing 'progressive' about this government

The government's description of the budget as 'progressive' is an example of doublespeak that is truly Orwellian.

Yesterday's edition of the Sun, that renowned flag bearer for progressive causes, trumpeted what they saw as its high points. These included freezing child benefits for the next three years, ending the Health in Pregnancy benefit given to all mums-to-be at 25 weeks pregnant, restricting housing benefit and introducing a new medical test for those claiming disability living allowance. In total the welfare benefit bill is to be slashed by £11bn over the next four years. And that is just for starters. While government ministers were saying that subsidies for bus travel, winter fuel and television licences for older people were going to be protected their minions were briefing the press that such cuts were inevitable. Throw into the mix VAT increasing to 20% plus freezing public sector pay, and plans to increase the retirement age to 70 and the regressive nature of the budget is clear.

Now, I expect this kind of vindictive attack on the welfare state from the Tories. It is what they do. I remember well the reality of Thatcher's Britain as a teenager growing up in Birmingham. But what of the Lib Dems? Has Charles Kennedy's warning that the Lib Con pact could "drive a strategic coach and horses through the long-nurtured 'realignment of the centre-left' to which leaders in the Liberal tradition, this one included, have all subscribed since the Jo Grimond era" been vindicated? The answer is conclusive. As Nick Pearce illustrates, the Lib Dems have simply sold their soul:

'Tellingly, the central Liberal Democrat election commitment to fairness in taxes and benefits has been abandoned. A few facts illustrate this simply enough. In their Manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised to raise nearly £2 billion from Capital Gains Tax reform. The Budget secures less than half that (£925 million). In addition, they pledged to raise £5.45 billion by restricting tax relief on pension contributions to the basic rate. This highly progressive measure has now been completely dropped. Ditto the Mansion Tax on properties worth over £2 million, due to have raised £1.7 billion. And there was barely a mention of the green taxes they had pencilled in to raise over £3 billion in the Budget. On almost every score, their pre-election tax package has been stripped of its progressive content.'

More than ever there is a need for genuinely progressive politics which has a commitment to principles of equality and social justice at its core. The Tories never had these principles. The Lib Dems have abandoned them. Labour needs to be pushed by progressives, both inside and outside the party, to fight for them.