Philip Hammond, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (i.e. George Osborne's second-in-command) has obviously been watching too many episodes of Ashes to Ashes. (I never actually watched any episodes of it, because after watching the first episode of Life On Mars, I decided that John Simm was excellent but the Gene Hunt character was simply too repellent to be watchable).
Hammond said in the Guardian on Saturday that deep cuts would be wielded to satisfy the Standard & Poor's credit rating agency and prevent them downgrading Britain's debt status, which would result in billions of pounds of additional interest rate payments.
One very reasonable response to this is: is it right that Government policy should be dictated by a privately-owned credit rating agency? Certainly not, and it's just another example of how democracy under capitalism is largely a sham. But that's a wider topic, for another post.
The main point today is that Hammond is willingly repeating the mistakes of the early 1980s, when cutting spending during a recession vastly exacerbated its size and duration. Unemployment didn't start falling until 1986 - 7 years after the recession began. It's the worst case of economic vandalism we've ever had in this country.
And a repeat of the 1981 strategy would be even worse this time because the initial global recession is that much worse than the early 1980s - and with the US economy crippled, we can't necessarily rely on an upturn in global demand to pull us out of this one.
Fortunately, sane voices are now beginning to rise up against the cuts, and the weekend's papers saw thoughtful and reasoned articles on why cutting spending in a recession would be a ludicrous thing to do, by Will Hutton and William Keegan. Progressive bloggers like Richard Murphy and Paul Sagar also delivered excellent critiques of Hammond's approach.
We've already covered what's happening to Ireland in this blog - it's like Thatcherism x10 - and the Tories seem to want to turn us into the same kind of economic basket-case. The economy is not going to come off the list of most important issues anytime before the election, so if Gordon Brown were to focus on the Conservatives being a dangerous, economically incoherent party - the bastard sons of Thatcher - it might reap dividends. But of course to do that he needs to emerge from his present perpetual Brezhnev impression and actually get out there and kick some Tory ass. We'd love to see it, but is he still capable, or has all this "big tent" and "government of all the talents" shit left him permanently incapacitated?
Even if Gordon can't do it and the Labour party gets walloped, perhaps it doesn't matter in the long run. I'm now convinced that the Tories will make such a hash of things in office - and the global depression will run so long - that a united, well-led, progressive Labour party could romp home in 2015. Of course the question is whether we can get a united, well-led, progressive Labour party, and not a shower of shit. I believe we can but it's not going to be easy. But more on this as we get nearer the election and the pathway becomes clearer...