Just Give Me Some Truth: The Austerity of Question Time

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 23.04.06As regular readers of this blog will doubtless be aware, Mediolana’s CSO is one busy bunny these days and rarely has time to watch any television unless it is truly essential viewing (the progress of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the 2013 African Nations Cup just about falls into this category). However, between the end of his evening shift and the commencement of a session of late-night staring at the World in 2013 earlier this week, he found that someone on another floor had left on the latest edition of Question Time (BBC 1, 24th January 2013). A few minutes of watching this programme left him wondering what any outside observers – including but not limited to the Communist Party of China, United Russia and Partai Demokrat – must think of the United Kingdom.

The key moment revolved around the issue of the ‘austerity’ policies currently being pursued by the Conservative Party-Liberal Democrats coalition. This set of policies has seen the implementation of some cuts to various elements of the UK’s budget in an attempt to reduce the country’s stupefying debt, which was estimated by US investment banking behemoth Morgan Stanley at just under 1,000% of GDP towards the end of 2011 – the highest debt load proportionate to output of any country in the G10. However, this approach has not been enough to stop the growth in borrowing, with the budget deficit reported as being £15.4bn in December 2012 – £0.6bn higher than at the same point in 2011.

Anna Soubry – a Conservative MP and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health – was challenged on this point by the Ben Bradshaw, a Labour MP and former cabinet minister who ascended to public office at the start of Tony Blair first administration. But instead of berating Soubry for not reducing the deficit, Bradshaw advocated that Britain follow Barack Obama’s lead by imitating the United States’ ‘growth-oriented’ path – by borrowing yet more money. A few minutes later, the MP for Exeter – to general approval – argued against cuts to the armed services, despite the fact that the United Kingdom has the world’s fourth largest military expenditure budget yet is placed only 22nd internationally in terms of population; is surrounded by neighbours with which it has no territorial disputes; and, as underlined by the Barack Obama-Hamid Karzai meeting of 13th January 2013, has an ever-diminishing role in Afghanistan.

The choice the British public are being presented with – and will be presented with for the foreseeable future – is that between (a) reduced government spending which fails to stop the escalation in indebtedness and (b) increased government spending which ratchets up the escalation in indebtedness; in other words, two varieties of hitting the wall. The comedy value of British politics has rarely been so apparent; the joke is unlikely to be lost in translation.

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Filed under Economics, Finance, Media, Politics

2 responses to “Just Give Me Some Truth: The Austerity of Question Time

  1. Part of the problem is that people simply are not noticing or are not reacting to the paucity of ideas or suggestions or wisdom in the government and opposition. The powers that be have got so good at manipulating what is seen and debated on mainstream media, that they now think they can avoid the really problematic issues just by putting the correct spin on the situation. Cameron’s naivety in using the threat of withdrawal from the EU is incredible, but shows how these very young politicians really don’t know what they are doing. He knows that like Blair he’s going to have a lot of years to kill after he steps down, and his primeministership is really very much about keeping his future masters happy.

    The arms issue I think is a complex one for the UK because we make a lot of money out of exporting arms, and so it’s in our interests to start wars occasionally. We need to keep people buying arms in the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and North Africa, and so our armed forces are very much a commercial enterprise, in my opinion.

    • Creativity is a scarce commodity – and perhaps not just in government. That said, the problem is perhaps not the available solutions but their palatability. Few politicians want to tell their electorates that things are going to suck and that living standards are going to decline for a generation; that people have to work harder; that they prefer hanging out with rich plutocrats than serving the people who elect them; &c.

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