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The Spending Review: nasty politics not real economics

This blog first appeared on LabourList on 26 June 2013.

Today’s parliamentary “festivities” started with Ed Miliband trying to strangle the Comprehensive Spending Review at birth, by noting how many previous promises – especially on infrastructure – were complete nonsense that have never happened. It was incredibly effective – and produced Miliband’s best PMQs performance in months – but he needn’t have bothered. Osborne’s CSR was less about infrastructure – although there were some vague increases in spending, too little too late – and more about nasty, vicious, small politics.

The Chancellor rose in the Commons less hoarse than usual but with a bizarre pallid expression, worsened by the thick layer of white makeup that caked his face. He looked ridiculous, as if he’d dusted himself with icing sugar, But that was where any sense of mirth in this grim event came to an end. Early on he slashed pay for public sector workers – not just for a year or two, but each and every single year for all eternity. We need more doctors and teachers, nurses and care workers – Osborne has ensured today that all of those jobs are less appealing. Slow. Hand. Clap.

But this wasn’t a serious attempt at economics. Perish the thought. These people being made worse off and losing their jobs was brought you by a party political broadcast on behalf of the (oops we forgot about the growth) Tory Party.

Why else would a speech on the economy make a tenuous link between Waterloo and the last Labour government? That’s right, Osborne compared Labour to Napoleon, who was responsible for millions of deaths and, in Osborne’s terms, “impoverished millions”. Which, of course, is why food bank use has skyrocketed under this government, not the last one. And it’ll skyrocket further thanks to Osborne’s latest wheeze to fiddle the books off the backs of the poor – who will have to wait a week longer to claim benefits. Hungry? Poor? Unemployed? Can’t feed your kids? Wait another week, peasant – the Tories need to throw more money at a tax cut for the richest 1%.

But it’s fine, because we can all marvel at hilarious jokes about how fatty Eric Pickles is an example of lean government, as people starve and are driven to charity by this heartless, vindictive and mean little man. Ed Balls, in response,was excellent – far better than last autumn – lambasting and lampooning the Chancellor. And I’d love to write about how good that felt, watching him whomp this ignorant fool about the chamber.

But if I did I’d be lying. Because I couldn’t stop thinking about those people. And that hunger. And those lost jobs. And those presentless Christmases. And those queues growing outside payday lenders and food banks. And I just felt fucking sick.