Following the emergency Budget the BBC Radio 4 Today programme for once put the ruling coalition's politics under pressure. Its presenter demanded that Nick Clegg explain why he was supporting a Budget that hit the poorest the hardest. The Lib Dem's blustering and vague accusations about "unfunded cuts" did not really deal with the issue at all. The philosophy and economic strategy behind the Budget aims to roll back the welfare state. This is not a new idea - the same thing's already happening at great speed in Greece and Spain. Both are being forced to swallow a toxic medicine of cuts and redundancies among valued public employees. What we are seeing in Europe today is strikingly similar to the economic policies prescribed to indebted poor countries by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. They've long promoted cuts to public spending, privatisation of services and a reduced role for the state in all social matters. Internationally taxation policy has become a beggar-my-neighbour strategy where all are forced to compete in reducing corporate tax levels. And on Tuesday Chancellor George Osborne promised that Britain would see one of the lowest levels of corporation tax in the world. Gone is even any discussion of a "Robin Hood" transaction tax, better known as the Tobin tax, to enforce some taxation on the huge levels of capital flows around the world.
The Budget is the first of a long series of plans that the Con-Dems have in store. This week it was attacks on welfare benefits and housing benefit. Before that it was cuts to free school meals. In October the coalition will set out spending plans for the next three years which will wreak enormous damage to the welfare state. Despite Con-Dem claims about protecting health expenditure, it is clear that the NHS will suffer too as it struggles with the huge built-in costs of existing private finance initiative contracts and growing demand from an increasingly elderly population. On top of this our health service will have to deal with a wave of demand as poor housing, unemployment and poverty lead to greater sickness. A day before the Budget, Parliament had hosted a different debate on spending where talk of cuts, retrenchment or rolling back the state's role were off the agenda. MPs were discussing the Strategic Defence Review first announced by the outgoing Labour government, which made sure that our hugely expensive nuclear weapons and Trident programme were not included. Scottish Nationalists did try to get Trident into the review and managed to force a vote on its inclusion during a debate on the Queen's Speech. However the entire coalition voted against the SNP demand - a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge - while the Labour front bench demanded that MPs abstain. This instruction was ignored by a large number of Labour MPs.
An air of unreality permeated last Monday's proceedings. Both front benches were agreed on Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons and essentially about interventions elsewhere. Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin delivered a speech that underlined the position of those who favour arms spending. "In today's world overpopulation," he declared, "competition for food and resources, the risk of environmental catastrophe, mass migration, accelerating technological change, nuclear proliferation, nationalism and extremism are all on the rise. That is quite a list, aggravated further by the global recession. Is this the moment to substitute hard power for soft power?" He talked in the language of Bush and Blair, declaring the "right" of the powerful to intervene where they think fit. Mercifully his allotted eight minutes were up before we could learn more of his apocalyptic worldview. The same day the House of Commons library published an analysis of the financial costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. In total from 2004 to 2009 the British public have paid £11.8bn. In the last full year for which information was available, 2008-9, Iraq had cost £1.3bn and Afghanistan £2.6bn. The bill for the latter will be far higher in 2009-10. What's more the predicted cost of replacing the Trident missile-carrying submarines and their warheads stands at £76bn over a predicted 25-year life.
Those who support this strategy - including those who claim that Britain's nuclear arsenal are about deterrence - actually share Jenkin's swivel-eyed, Dr Strangelove worldview. If such a perspective were allowed to dominate, the 192 non-nuclear-weapons nations which do not wish to have WMD would do better to develop them as quickly as possible in preparation for a new era of resource wars. For the biggest corporations these kind of wars work. The bizarre auction of Iraq's oil reserves a year ago and Afghanistan's reported multibillion-pound mineral wealth show what is really behind such interventions. However they do nothing for ordinary people, the very people who are being asked to swallow huge cuts in social spending, lower tax for big corporations, an enormous defence budget and a new generation of nuclear weapons. As the cuts bite, the public focus will turn increasingly to issues of social need. It is time to promote an alternative view with social and economic justice at the forefront, at home and across the world.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.