It happened again, in Prime Minister’s Questions, today. It was bound to, really. Rebuked by the excellent Speaker of the House, John Bercow, for using insulting, unparliamentary language toward Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, David Cameron fell back, like an involuntary reflex, on a mantra I can guarantee you will hear in at least 99% of Tory (and most LibDem) interviews on TV or radio, in the press or online.
Withdrawing his comment as instructed, Cameron said:
“I will replace it with ‘the man who left us this enormous deficit and this financial crisis’.”
And, of course, cue much Tory guffawing and catcalling of the type that only a £25k a year private education can teach.
This (mostly) Tory tactic has been in place since before they were elected, and has continued, unbroken and to the point of nausea, to the present. Listen to any interview, any ‘debate’ on Newsnight or Question Time (though the Tories like to avoid debate if they can!), and you’ll hear some variation of:
‘the mess we inherited’
‘we’re having to clean up Labour’s mess’
and so on. Clearly, in order to try to get off the hook of the never-ending run of screw-ups, the Tory PR gurus have drummed this into their politicians until they eat, sleep and breathe ‘inherited mess, inherited mess, inherited mess…’
The only tiny problem with all this is this: it’s absolutely untrue.
I’m going to try to show you why. It’s not really that difficult to see, but a lot of people don’t look beyond the mantras and the headlines. Anyone who knows me very well will know that I talk a lot about the ‘Big Lie’ concept. In a nutshell, this says that the bigger a lie is, and the more emphatically it’s spouted, the more people are likely to think, ‘Well, they wouldn’t dare say it, and especially not like that, if it weren’t true!’ But of course, it isn’t true – that’s the whole point. As someone said to me the other day, a plausible lie, shouted loud enough and often enough, usually gets to be taken for the truth.’
Since a picture paints a thousand words and all that, I’m going to use a couple of graphs to illustrate just how untrue this Tory Big Lie is, along with a little commentary. There may be ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’, but when it comes to nailing a Big Lie, a few objective numbers work wonders.
The ‘inherited mess’ lie has 2 main parts. The first says that the economic crisis was caused by Labour’s overspending. The second says that the resulting ‘mountain’ of government debt led to such an economic disaster that Dave, George and co had to come galloping in on their big chargers to rescue us with their Magic Sword of Austerity and Competence to clean up the mess and fix our economy.
Let’s nail each part of the lie in turn. First, was Labour overspending, and was government debt drastically increasing under Labour? Well, the IMF (see www.scoop.it/t/deficit-myth) say not, and even George Osborne himself, under pressure from Treasury Select Committee members, has to admit it ain’t so (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK-h4aiuGIs). Now, on to those pictures:
This handy graph shows the changes in UK national debt since 1999 (2 years after Labour came to power). It shows something very interesting. In the years from 1999-2002, the UK’s national debt SHRANK to the lowest point it has been since well before Labour took over, right through to the present day. In fact, although not shown on this graph, the debt when Labour took power – the ‘inherited mess’ from the previous Tory government! – was higher than at any time during Labour’s tenure until the 2008 global crash.
From 2002, the graph shows a gradual, managed increase, over a period of 6 years, from about 29% to about 35%. This is the period when Labour – as they had promised to do – started to increase investment in great, beloved British institutions like the NHS, as well as in other public services. This gradual increase was no problem – it was controlled, deliberate, affordable. And it was still lower than it had been under the preceding Tory government.
Of course, in 2008, something drastic happened. There was a global financial crisis that hit virtually every country in the world – hard. National debt increased – but, as the IMF report linked above confirms, this increase was NOT due to excessive public spending! National income fell, and this inevitably pushed up the amount of borrowing. But here’s another thing – without being in the same kind of sudden meltdown, the misguided austerity policies of the coalition government have kept the debt growth-line steep! That’s because those policies are shrinking the national income far further and faster than spending could or should ever be cut. The way out of the current problems is to stimulate growth – and that’s not compatible with austerity budget-slashing.
Here’s another graph that shows very clearly how Labour did not leave a mess behind for the coalition to clear up:
Now this one’s ever so slightly trickier to read, but bear with me. I want you to focus on the thickness of the very light blue block of the graph at the top. Don’t look at how high up it goes, as that’s caused by the thickness of the blocks underneath it.
This light-blue block represents UK government debt from 1987-mid 2011, as a percentage of GDP (basically, the amount the whole country earns). The striking thing about this light-blue block is that it hardly changes in thickness at all from 1987 all the way through to the big global financial crash in 2008 (in fact it gets a little thinner during most of Labour’s last period in government). The first 10 years of that period were under a Tory government. The next 11 were under Labour. If Labour were being profligate in their spending, so were the preceding Tory governments of Thatcher (Queen of Austerity!) and Major, and somewhat more so.
Of course, as already mentioned debt went up during and just after the 2008 crash, because national income went down. You can see the light-blue block thicken at this point. But Tory spending cuts, even without a global ‘meltdown’, are pushing debt up and making the debt-block fatter. Countries like the USA, who under Barack Obama took a positive approach to stimulate their economy, have experienced growth during the same period that we’ve increased debt and suffered recession. Unlike Labour, the Tories have no excuse for the increasing national debt under their (mis)management – so they invent one: ‘the mess we inherited‘, and repeat it for all they’re worth in the hope of fooling people into believing their Big Lie.
There are other things I could draw out of the 2nd graph, such as the fact that household debt and non-financial companies’ debt during the same period grew, but that far and away the big debt-increase problem, as the graph clearly shows, was irresponsible borrowing by financial companies (in other words, NOT the Labour government!), and that in spite of such companies clearly being the cause of our crisis, this Tory government is not curtailing the obscene bonuses the banks etc continue to pay themselves (I guess they need bonuses to console themselves for the destruction they caused!).
And there are other graphs worth looking at. But I think I’ve made my point and given you enough to chew on for now. So I’ll round off, for clarity’s sake, by reiterating the key point that all the graphs and words above are there to prove. Which is:
WHEN THIS GOVERNMENT AND ITS REPRESENTATIVES SAY ‘THE MESS WE INHERITED’ – AS THEY OH SO SURELY WILL – THEY ARE LYING: IT IS A ‘BIG (FAT!) LIE’!
They want to fool you, so they can continue wrecking our great country and siphoning our money into the pockets of the so-called elite who pay into Tory party coffers (and Tory ministers’ bank accounts, it appears).
Don’t let them.