After Austerity: What Happens After You’ve Slain the Deficit Dragon, George?


The final point I want to make is about the “dog that didn’t bark” in Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement. What could, and should Britain look like After Austerity?

According to Mr Osborne by about 2015 we will be back to substantial growth, indeed some growth rates higher than before the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). We will have the deficit back down to under the 3% of GDP we had for 5-6 years before the GFC and which, at the time, Mr Osborne thought was fine (see this BBC report from 2007).

So once we’re back to growth and the defict dragon has been tamed, what then? Well, according to Mr Osborne it appears, nothing. By 2017-18 he would have public spending down to below the magical 40% of GDP (39.5% to be precise) and it seems he’d be quite happy to keep it there or keep on pushing it down further.

There’s no talk of rebuiding the public realm – “sharing the proceeds of growth” as the Chancellor used to say. On the contrary Mr Osborne and his Conservative colleagues are quietly content they will have “rolled back the frontiers of the state” far further than Margaret Thatcher ever managed. That is a legitimate, if misguided, political ambition. What is not legitimate is to embark on such a radical change without a popular mandate or even a public statement of that’s what you are about.

Nor was there any vision from Mr Osborne of what the private sector would look like – where was the growth, innovation and famed ‘re-balancing’ going to come from? What would be the engines for growth and prosperity?

On all of this George the Deficit Dragon Slayer said next to nothing. Our Chancellor obviously isn’t one for multi-tasking.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
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