Tom Greatrex's column for the Rutherglen Reformer (14 January 2015)
Just over 100 days to go until the general election – and the choice facing people in Rutherglen and Cambuslang is whether or not they want David Cameron to continue as Prime Minister from May 2015.
The first few days of the New Year have set out some of the big issues in the campaign that it will be hard to avoid for the next three months. The need for investment in the NHS, where A&E waits in both Scotland and England have massively increased even when the weather was mild and without any widespread winter sickness bug yet; the focus on the contrasting economic policies where the Tories have committed themselves to massive cuts in services to fund more tax reductions for the richest; and the increasingly bizarre statements from the SNP’s backstreet driver suggesting he wants to be in a Labour government while trying to defeat Labour MPs and keeping Cameron as Prime Minister.
We have had a Tory dossier on Labour’s economic policies that unravelled within hours, and just yesterday (Tuesday) will have had the latest George Osborne stunt – a staged vote on a document called the Charter for Budget Responsibility. During last year’s budget, the Tory chancellor said that he wanted a vote on balancing the overall budget – but now he has shifted his ground to a vote on the current budget. Or the costs of various government programmes, but not on vital investment in the economy.
You might think that the penny has finally dropped, and Osborne has realised that it is precisely because he choked off the early growth in the economy that he inherited in 2010 that we have had such a slow, painful four and a half years where, all but for a couple of months, the cost of living has risen faster than wages. The reality is even worse – they have a vote that is not even on their prospectus, outlined in December, to return public spending to a proportion of GDP last seen in the 1930s. So the vote they force is a non-event, and the reality of their policy is to cut deeper and deeper into public services – not to balance the budget because they have to, but to cut services they don’t believe in because they want to.
The approach of the two main parties is very different. Labour said a year ago that we want to get the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament. But the basic economics lesson – reinforced by the woeful record of George Osborne since 2010 – is that the best way of growing the economy, of generating wealth and of reducing the deficit is by promoting and investing to increase living standards, create jobs and spending power in the economy. (465)
Tackling the cost of living crisis, increasing the minimum wage to £8 in the next Parliament, ensuring that the abuse of exploitative zero hours contracts are ended, real reform of the energy market so it is clear and fair, and incentivising the living wage for private sector jobs. None of which the Tories support, and all which a Labour government will enact.
It is also important that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, by reversing the Tory tax cut for millionaires and introducing a mansion tax on houses worth over £2m to help save and transform the NHS. Of course, with 95% of those properties in London and the south, then the benefit to Scotland will be larger through the pooling and sharing of revenues. It is up to the Scottish government how they would use that money, but Labour have made clear we would use it to invest in more nurses in the NHS, which are desperately needed as anybody who has been at A&E facilities in Lanarkshire recently knows.
There are wide and real differences in approach, and which direction the government of the UK takes will be determined by the electorate in May. Of course, none of that is included in George Osborne's manufactured stunt - and it is the type of game playing that demonstrates however much they claim to understand the reality of life for many who have seen their living standards decrease over the last four and a half years, they really are not interested. Another good reason to make sure David Cameron and George Osborne do not remain in Downing Street and the Tories as the largest party.
For many, 7th May 2015 can't come soon enough.
Tom Greatrex's column for the Rutherglen Reformer (14 January 2015) Just over 100 days to go until the general election – and the choice facing people in Rutherglen and Cambuslang...