Labour, austerity and sardines

By Savi Hensman
June 22, 2013

As a People’s Assembly Against Austerity gathered in London, the Guardian carried a dispiriting interview with UK opposition leader Ed Miliband.

“The next Labour government will have to plan on the basis of falling departmental spending, but the party knows we can still make a difference," he claimed. He was trying to justify his pledge to continue the current government’s austerity measures, though perhaps not cutting so far and so fast.

Economists have pointed out that this programme is damaging an already fragile economy. Anti-cuts campaigners have argued that poor and middle income families should not be punished for a crisis they did not cause. Yet Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls think that a tough stance will increase their chances of getting elected.

They are making some promises that might benefit those being hit by the economic downturn and cuts in public services and social security. For instance bankers’ bonuses may be taxed to guarantee jobs to young people.

Yet other pledges appear to involve rehashing old buzzwords, for instance decentralisation, and a preventive approach to social care. This is unlikely to make up for the loss of key services and a basic income.

"If you go into the roots and history of the Labour party and think about our most dramatic society-changing government, the 1945 government, we all remember the NHS, building homes, and the family allowance," said Miliband.

“What is less remembered is the other half”, he argued. “There was wartime rationing. This is a government that banned the import of sardines because they were worried about the balance of payments. It shows a government can be remembered in difficult times for doing great things."

However present-day policies that erode social solidarity as well as inflicting unnecessary suffering on those already facing hardship are a different matter altogether.

Even if the modern Labour leadership cares more about power than justice, it should consider the risk that many of its supporters may be too fed up to vote or switch to another party. As more people are affected by austerity, backing this is likely to become increasingly unpopular.

After all, if the post-war Labour government were notable mainly for banning imported sardines and doing slightly less damage than the Luftwaffe, few would remember it fondly.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice, welfare and religion. She was written extensively on the theological and religious issues involved in debates about sexuality and marriage equality. She works in the care and equalities sector and is an Ekklesia associate.

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