I’m looking forward to the event of the summer in Brent this Sunday (9th September) at Gladstone Park. The event marks the end of a great summer with the Diamond Jubilee, the Paralympics and the Olympic Games.There will be live music, performances, food and a funfair so come along this Sunday from 12pm to 7.30pm.
During the past month, Britain’s sporting heroes in Team GB have taken on the world at the Olympic Games and, with performances which exceeded expectations, have delivered our biggest haul of medals for over 100 years. What a contrast with the other Team GB, the Conservative/LibDem coalition, which also promised success but has delivered a shrinking economy, increased unemployment and debt, poorer social provision and the biggest squeeze on the living standards of ordinary people in living memory!
When the coalition took office two years ago, it inherited an economy which had been hit hard by the worst global recession since the 1930s but was recovering and had been growing for five quarters. Instead of consolidating and encouraging that growth, however, it embarked on an unnecessary and unnecessarily savage austerity programme which choked off recovery, led to growth contracting over five of the following seven quarters and resulted in a return to recession.
Yet, when announcing his first budget after taking office, George Osborne said that if he didn’t introduce a harsh programme of tax increases and spending cuts, Britain would face:
‘Higher interest rates, more business failures, sharper rises in unemployment, and potentially even a catastrophic loss of confidence and the end of the recovery. We cannot let that happen. This budget is needed to deal with our country’s debts. This budget is needed to give confidence to the economy. This is an unavoidable budget.’
Bold words but what has been the outcome? Interest rates have remained low but, as Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, they have remained low in the USA and Japan as well, countries with higher debt levels which didn’t rush into austerity.
On the downside, however, business failures have continued, with almost 4,000 companies going under in the last quarter and retail insolvencies rising by 10.3%. Unemployment remains well above the level Osborne inherited in May 2010, over a million young people are out of work and underemployment has become a major problem with a record 1.42 million people working part time because they can’t find full-time employment. Business and consumer confidence has collapsed to levels not seen since the worst point of the original recession, we have the highest trade deficit in 15 years, national debt is rising and the economy has contracted in the last three quarters, driving us into a double dip recession for only the second time since the Second World War.
And there’s no good news on the horizon either: The Bank of England is predicting a 0.2% contraction in growth this year and probably five further years of economic pain. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is prediction a 0.5% contraction and the IMF has stated that Britain’s economic outlook is now deteriorating faster than that of any other major economy.
When Britain was facing big economic problems in the 1970s, Dennis Healy said that the first thing to do when you found yourself in a hole was to stop digging. Another smart bloke (either Albert Einstein or Roy Keane, I can’t remember which) said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But Osborne remains adamant that he will not change course and that there is no Plan B for the economy. Such arrogance from a chancellor and cabinet which have clearly lost the plot is now coming under increasing attack, not only from unions and political opponents but from coalition politicians (one of whom called Osborne a ‘work experience chancellor’), from business organisations and leaders and from the general public. The majority of economists who backed the austerity programme during the 2010 general election are now calling on Osborne to change course. And the IMF, which also previously backed austerity, is now urging the chancellor to think again about cutting back and to focus on growth and on ‘boosting the bargaining power of labour’ to get more demand into the economy.
It’s not as if there is a shortage of good ideas about rebuilding confidence and demand and getting the economy back on its feet again. For example, stopping or slowing down the public sector and benefit cutbacks (even if only temporarily) would help lower the rate of unemployment, keep people paying taxes and maintain demand in the economy. Borrowing, at our famously low interest rates, to rebuild our creaking infrastructure and to build houses for people to live in, would boost employment in construction and related industries and get people spending again. Putting money back in the hands of ordinary people by cutting VAT (even if only temporarily), ending the freeze on public sector pay and even introducing quantitative easing for people, by creating money to put in the hands of the most needy rather than in the coffers of the banks, would all boost demand and encourage spending.
Indeed PPI refunds by the banks, which totalled £4.8 billion up to May, have already done more to boost the economy than the coalition, because people who have had money refunded have gone out and spent it!
The Olympics showed us that we don’t have to accept mediocrity or assume that we cannot reach new heights. We may have the fight of our lives on our hands but, as the TUC’s Frances O’Grady said, if we keep people together, build confidence and give a sense of hope and vision that things don’t have to be like this, we can build a better world. We can help win that better world by defending our rights in our workplaces and communities. But we can also help win it by mobilising now for the TUC’s national demonstration for a future that works on 20 October. It’s time to stop agonising and start organising!
Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.
I am extremely disappointed by Royal Mail’s decision not to give British Gold medal Paralympic athletes equal treatment when it comes to producing stamps with pictures of successful athletes on them.
To celebrate every gold medal that Team GB wins, Royal Mail has been painting a Postbox gold in the home town of athletes that win gold medals. It is welcome that this practise will also be carried out when an athlete in the Paralympic games wins a gold medal too.
In addition, Royal Mail has been issuing special stamps with pictures of the winning gold medallists every time Team GB wins one. However, they will not be carrying out this practise for disabled athletes when they win gold medals. Instead, all Paralympics winners will feature across a series of six stamps. The reason cited for this is that it would be “logistically impossible” to have this equal treatment of Paralympic athletes as in Beijing, they won 42 gold medals over 10 days of competition.
In a statement on the British Paralympics Association’s website, they say that they are “very pleased with the final plans” and the reason for not having gold medal stamps for Paralympians is “very good”.
If it logistically impossible to provide equal treatment for all our gold medal winning athletes, then Royal Mail simply should not have printed stamps for any athletes. The Olympic and Paralympic Games should be seen as part of one London 2012 Games. It may just be stamps, but there is a bigger picture – it symbolises that there is still a long way to go in the struggle for disability equality.
Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove is receiving widespread criticism for having a bit of “things used to be a lot better in my day” syndrome, with his plans to overhaul the Education system.
Silent in all of this so far, surprise surprise is Education Minister Sarah Teather.
In other news, the International Olympic Committee are considering changing the format of the 100 metre race on the basis that people are running it faster. I mean Usain Bolt running it it 9.78 seconds…. It took me 10 seconds just to watch it!
The Spanish Football Association are also considering using smaller goals and footballs made from cast iron metal on the basis that Cristiano Ronaldo and Leonel Messi are scoring 50 plus goals a season.