The Tories cannot blame Labour this time – we’re in this mess because of Brexit

I really cannot take any more news about how this winter is going to be. It feels like being at school and told to hold your hands out, palms down. A particularly sadistic teacher would then come and rap us on the knuckles with a ruler. The waiting for the pain was as bad as the pain.

Suzanne Moore 

Every day we are told Austerity 2.0 is upon us. Eye-wateringly tough choices are being made. Everyone is going to have less, except the very rich. This induces in most of us a state of powerless anxiety. I panicked and bought an air fryer in which I incinerated a cauliflower as if somehow one kitchen device might make any actual difference to my fuel bills.

More austerity is a political choice, just as the first round of it was. Now, though, it is being presented to us as some kind of inevitability. This is not 2010 though. Yet George Osborne has materialised again advising Hunt on how to strip the very last meat off the bones of many struggling public services. This is repulsive.

Back then, Osborne could at least pretend that belts had to be tightened because of Labour profligacy and not the bank bailout of 2008. It prepared the country in two ways. We were bombarded with messages about strivers and skivers, and endless TV programmes about people on benefits who were somehow a despicable and parasitic underclass. Then, as now, most benefits were for those in low paid work and for pensioners. The divvying up of citizens into the deserving and the undeserving poor is a callous move. I would really rather know about how the undeserving rich are gonna help out here.

But this is not 2010. The Tories cannot blame Labour. We are in this mess (UK GDP fell by 0.6 per cent in September) because of Brexit. We import more than we export and lean on investors’ faith in UK assets. Then there was the insane Truss who had internalised Mark Zuckerberg’s motto “Move fast and break things”. Truss and Kwarteng’s budget imploded, playing havoc with the markets, pushing up interest rates and causing all kinds of chaos that the mere regime at the top of the party cannot sort out.

The public are now being asked again to tighten our belts – but this is not the same public of 10 years ago who will merrily go along with it as Hunt tries to recoup £50 billion primarily from public services.

Again, this is an ideological choice.

Out of all G7 nations we are alone in utilising austerity to stop a recession. While the very poorest are being made even poorer, and the disposable income of the middle classes is reduced, there will be no growth. The NHS is on its knees and the public, far from turning its back on striking nurses or train drivers, has sympathy for them. The current strategy of turning all ire on migrants is but a distraction.

Many of our problems indeed stem from cutting public investment in the first wave of austerity. We didn’t repair school roofs or build flood defences or decent homes.

This new demand, that the public have to pay for the mistakes of our leaders, is not going to be met with sanguine acceptance. The architects of austerity depend on lies and deception, the biggest of which is ‘the household fallacy”. This holds that the government needs to manage its finances like a household and live within its means. Households cannot sustain debt without hearing the knock of the bailiffs. However governments can and do as they can print money, tax the wealthy and hold their debts domestically. In truth, our debt is low in comparison with historical standards and we measure it in a way that does not take into account public investment. If Germany was to use the way we measure our debt, its government debt would be twice as large.

So we are to gloss over the effects of Brexit, the damage done by Truss and 12 years of running down public services and blame everything on what? Ukraine? The pandemic? Ordinary folk are to pay for the mistakes of the Tory Party’s crisis?

It will not wash. Sunak said: “This is a compassionate Conservative government that recognises the pressures people feel. But we’re not going to stop hard choices”. Well, I know a little about compassionate conservatism as once – for my sins – I had to follow William Hague around America so he could find out what it was. He met Kissinger and Bush and we went to schools plastered with brand names. Osborne lurked silently in the background, for he was then Hague’s speechwriter.

Compassion meant only bringing private money into public institutions. There is nothing compassionate about austerity and in terms of what we need to promote growth, nothing even that conservative.

This is discredited and punitive ideology that shows the Tories have run out of ideas and have reverted to the only thing they know how to do: rapping our knuckles, making us poorer, pushing despair while saying there is no alternative. But there is…