People should by now know the Orwellian character on this government’s spin enough to suspect that if they keep on asserting something, it is almost certainly not true. So it is with the idea of the ‘long term economic plan’. Here is a chart of the original plan for the deficit, and what has actually happened.
|UK current budget deficit: June 2010 plans and outturns (per cent GDP).|
The government kept their word on reducing the deficit in financial years 2010-11 and 2011-12, in part through sharp reductions in public investment: cancelling repairs to schools, reducing spending on flood defences etc. But that helped kill the recovery, so they allowed deficit reduction to stall.
The 2010 plan put the pace of deficit reduction at the centre of policy making, and the data make it clear that in 2012 the plan changed. Why did mediamacro not call this for what it was. There are two half-truths here. First, austerity in terms of squeezing lots of government departments continued. Welfare reform continued to cause plenty of misery, and food banks continued to grow. So in that very visible sense, the policy of squeezing the state was not abandoned. Second, the Chancellor’s main fiscal rule allowed him to delay austerity in this way (because the form of the rule, since abandoned, was sensible in that respect), so in that sense there was no dramatic change. However in terms of the deficit numbers, fiscal austerity was put on hold in 2012.
Not making it clear that the plan had changed was a serious failure. If that call had been made, the Chancellor would have had to account for why he had allowed deficit reduction to stall, and that in turn would have established quite clearly that previous austerity had delayed the recovery. Failure to make that call allowed (and continues to allow) the Chancellor to pretend that the delayed recovery was not his fault, when it so clearly was. (Some journalists also got sidetracked in focusing on OBR forecasts, rather than on the OBR’s assessment of the impact of austerity.) Finally not saying that the plan had changed encouraged the ludicrous claim that the 2013 recovery vindicated austerity, which is tomorrows myth.
So this is why the Chancellor keeps on talking about his ‘long term economic plan’, because to admit he changed his plan (as a sensible reaction to the delayed recovery) would open the door to questions about why the plan had changed, and therefore about the damage that austerity had done. It that sense the ‘long term economic plan’ is a key part of the mediamacro myth.
Previous posts in this series
(3) The 2007 boom