Labour should know all about austerity. They plunged the UK private sector into the most severe austerity by their large mistakes in 2007-9. Not content with fuelling an irresponsible boom in credit in 2003-7, they decided to make the worse error of stopping it all so abruptly that they brought down several banks. They threw the UK economy into the worst recession since the 1930s. Many people lost their jobs. Incomes were squeezed. Businesses failed or became unprofitable. That’s austerity.
The Coalition have made a start to reversing Labour’s cruel austerity. Many more people are now in jobs, with unemployment down. UK output and incomes overall are now back above the 2007 level before the crash. Living standards are rising again after the sharp fall in 2007-9 and the squeeze thereafter.
Many commentators think austerity is a new word for public expenditure cuts. They need to realise that the bulk of jobs in the UK are in the private sector. 26 million people work for employers other than the state. It was this large majority that felt the full pain of the cuts. Public expenditure in real terms carried on rising in the Labour years, and rose again by a small amount in real terms under the Coalition. There were individual cuts in particular departments and programmes, but no overall reduction.
I am a strong critic of austerity. I opposed Labour’s credit binge and mega bank mergers on the way up before the crash, and I opposed Labour’s clumsy bank regulation and nationalisation which made the crash more intense and cast a long shadow over the recovery.
I want the current economic recovery to continue. To speed it we need tax cuts, not higher taxes. To fuel it we need policies that are positive for business and enterprise, not hostile to success. It was ill judged regulation from the state that brought the banks to their knees and damaged the private sector. It will be allowing people more freedom to set up and grow companies which will power the recovery.
The UK is close to the point now where the commercial banks can finance a recovery without further artificial public sector stimulus. Pursuing more anti bank rhetoric would not be a good idea. Whilst many people may not like banks, if you damage the banks you damage the rest of the economy. What Labour does not seem to have learnt from its bitter experiences of 2007-9 is if you get the banks wrong, it is other people in many other sectors and businesses that lose their jobs or struggle to maintain their commercial activities. Sometimes politicians have to stand up for the unpopular, and explain to people why the politics of jealousy or revenge may make things worse, not better.