It’s 1950 and Britain is on its knees. Destroyed houses, vacant bomb sites, temporary prefabs, rationing (which did not end until 1954) and a level of income tax twice the level it is today. Natural disasters – which are now blamed on austerity – are devastating: five days of smog killed over 4000 people in 1952 and the North Sea flood in 1953 was the worst peacetime disaster in modern Britain.
The point of highlighting this is not to discredit modern hardships – but it is to put them in perspective. As of today it is official (according to the British Social Attitudes Survey) that the majority of Britons favour higher taxes and higher spending. Undoubtedly this is the product of Jeremy Corybn’s leadership of the Labour Party and his very effective anti-austerity campaign. The recent general election, unlike other ones in recent history, did not centre on “living with our means” or a “Long-Term Economic Plan” but on investment in infrastructure and the public sector.
But while austerity may be a very effective slogan it bears little resemblance to the truth. Contrary to popular belief, the Tories are big-borrowers; by 2020 they will have borrowed more than all Labour governments put together (https://fullfact.org/economy/government-borrowing/). The confirmation of this is that they are yet to eliminate the deficit. Moreover, a recent study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that NHS spending is at its highest ever level. Of course the hospital wards, the care homes, the property market, the homelessness and the tragedies at Grenfell Tower tell a story of unfairness in modern Britain. But if Harold MacMillan were still alive I am sure he would not hesitate in repeating his famous mantra: ‘you’ve never had it so good’.
The political parties should stop playing politics over the economy and put the country first. Modern Britain may be better-off than in the 1950s but it is far behind other countries and still faces insurmountable problems: lagging GDP per capita; a ballooning national debt; falling real wages (particularly for those between 18-21); inflation and woeful productivity. Not to mention Brexit.
Enough politics. The devil is in the detail, or else it will be in tragedy.