A Dead Economic Theory for a Dead Political Class


“Do you suffer from long-term memory loss – I can’t remember.” Chumbawamba

Just how bad are voters memories?

Scottish citizens of yesteryear might have been forgiven for voting Labour in UK General Elections, with the feint notion of a different political platform and a different economics in mind. In fact the urge to vote Labour and ‘protect Scotland from the Tories’ has echoed down the land for decades. But for people involved in the referendum it was a transformative moment of understanding about how power lies and how unionist politicians work. The ‘only Labour can beat the Tories’ myth has been well and truly tested and found wanting: from the Feeble Fifty to Blair’s Iraq adventure to Gordon’s PFI disaster.

Polly Toynbee is the latest to trot out the line (‘Ignore the flaws. For only Labour can beat the Tories’.) She is at least right about one thing, the cuts promised by Osborne will lock the country into permanent austerity. She writes:

“His cuts would keep the state permanently at the size it was in the 1930s – 35% of GDP – with councils stripped bare of all but basic functions. Local elections would be empty: it won’t matter who runs rump services. An unthinkable £12bn is to be cut from benefits, all from working-age families, most in work, making food banks a fixture.”

The cuts arriving will transform our society, that much is true.

What she misses out is that as recently as September Ed Balls was promising just the very same. Labour has already promised a ‘binding fiscal commitment’ to match Tory spending plans – a continuation of austerity. Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls used their autumn conference to spell out what that means; for example, freezing (in other words cutting) Child Benefit, Winter Fuel Allowance, and increasing the retirement age, a huge blow to the living standards of millions.

One Nation Labour

None of this is concealed.

Labour have been quite clear about their intentions.

They’ve pledged to introduce laws to enforce “tough” fiscal rules if they win the election in 2015.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls aims to replicate the anti-democratic measures imposed on countries such as Greece by the European Union, where massive spending cuts have been made legally binding.

Balls told the Fabian Society earlier in the year that a future Labour government would legislate within its first year to introduce a debt brake, progress which would be overseen by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

This means Labour is now fully committed to permanent austerity, as it matches the Tories step-for-step. The Conservatives have already stated they will bring the current account into surplus by 2019, based on more than £150 billion worth of cuts. Central to this is reducing public spending from 46 percent of GDP when it took office to less than 37 percent. Even so, Chancellor George Osborne has said that a further £25 billion of cuts will be necessary in addition to those already outlined.

The social implication of such moves is a uniform commitment by Britain’s political class to the impoverishment of the most vulnerable. For Scots to vote for a party committed openly to such measures would be extraordinary when we are presented with an opportunity to make common cause with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party on a range of alternatives.

Toynbee’s analysis is oddball.

First we have: “I’m sure we’d agree a score of issues where Labour policies look pusillanimous, hesitant or downright cowardly” before urging voters in a desultory voice that: “we are stuck with a rotten electoral system which, despite growing alienation from the old parties, demands cynical tactical voting to keep out the worst” and then, finally: “Too close to call, Labour stands a good chance of winning by a whisker. This is no time to quit, but to come to the aid of the party with donations.”

To summarise, there’s nothing to inspire you and they have no alternative, but give them your money anyway. It’s not exactly an inspiring vision for the post-Yes citizenry is it?

Nor do I think she is right in arguing that: ‘He (Miliband) won the leadership partly because he rejected the Iraq war.’ Sadly a more brutal reality likely stopped the comrades electing the former Foreign Secretary. 

But if you think Toynbee is just a tired old Labour functionary blurting out the same failed trope, and simply unaware of alternatives from throughout the wider ‘United Kingdom’, think again. Her vision has a hinterland, or at least, a backwater. As she wrote in 2000:

“Scotland, Wales and Ireland have all moulded themselves a comfortable identity out of their victimhood, all having suffered slaughter at the hands of the ‘English’ (however defined). This has been embellished with dollops of ersatz folklore, most of it Victorian or later inventions – kilts, druids, eisteddfods, bagpipes, harps, shamrocks and by imposing dead languages on wretched children who should be learning live ones. But if that’s what they want, so be it. As subjugated people, if this is what it takes to restore their self-confidence, far be it from the English to snigger.”

Snigger away Polly. But you’ll forgive us if we don’t warm to your vision of a Labour future?

This kind of dire British nihilism should be rejected for what is it worth, a pale imitation of a failed neo-liberal agenda, faithfully regurgitated with Labour spin. If anyone’s language is dead it’s the language of austerity that Labour clings to this dark winter.


Comments (18)

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  1. I remember her telling us, when Blair was PM, to put a clothespeg on our noses and vote Labour anyway. That worked well.

  2. Steve Bowers says:

    loving their fear

  3. I remembering hearing Polly Toynbee state to Andrew Neil that a Scottish MP should never again reach the position of Prime Minister.

    Our Kingdom is not very together, better or united.

    1. Murray McCallum says:

      (Remember) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQBZq4wZk4M

      Not sure Andrew Neil’s hasty qualification of Scotland constituency based MP makes much difference to the tone. Polly also extended her Scottish ban to all the higher offices of state.

  4. Gordon bradley says:

    If this is the best of both worlds then god help us !

  5. muttley79 says:

    The irony of a political commentator who supported the SDP in the 1980s pleading for people to vote Labour is a delicious one, although clearly it has not put off Polly Toynbee. There is a number of commentators who are basically wedded to the British state, but pretend or present themselves as slightly left wing or progressive. It includes people like Will Hutton, Toynbee, Nick Cohen etc. When push comes to shove they will not defend the voiceless, the alienated, the marginalised, or the vulnerable or disadvantaged.

  6. schmaved says:

    The comments from people like Polly Townbee are rapidly moving from distateful to disgusting. It’s a shocking indictment of how low some people’s aspirations have slunk. We have an engaged electorate in Scotland with multiple visions of creating a better Scotland and this is the alternative? Vote for a party who no longer represents it’s former voters and whose only purpose is to mould itself into an electable position in order to impose the same ideological constraints as it’s former nemesis the Tories. This, along with the admission by a Tory activist that she is not only supporting but aiding and abetting Jim Murphy by working in his campaign office (see today’s Wings post) needs to spread far and wide. There is no Labour Party in Scotland, there is a despicable doppelganger that needs to be unmasked to reveal it’s true identity.

  7. Morag says:

    Polly Toynbee has been like this for decades. I remember being utterly enraged by an article of hers in the Radio Times absolutely ages ago, I think even pre-internet. As far as I recall both the Scots and the Welsh got it in the neck for being whiny subsidy-junkies with an overblown sense of entitlement and a maudlin devotion to ersatz “culture”. I’ve never been able to read a word she’s written since then.

  8. Darien says:

    “..an opportunity to make common cause with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party on a range of alternatives”

    The red and blue Tory alliance will easily counter this supposed “opportunity”. What then? And what strategy for 30+ SNP MP’s? Do they just politely complain about UK policies for another 5 years, while happily taking the salary and exp?

    1. Brian Fleming says:

      Then we return to the issue of Independence with the lines more clearly drawn, n’est-ce pas?

      1. Darien says:

        L’indépendance n’est jamais donné, il doit être pris. N’oubliez pas que nous traitons de perfide Albion.

  9. Maxi kerr says:

    There has never been such a thing as a Scottish Labour/Tory/Liberal party.These are all English parties run from Westminster,and have only had the interests of the secret owners/rulers of the UK as their main goal.
    These people have been immersed in power and privilege for centuries, and have no intention of letting the people of Scotland have their country back, or have control of the massive resources of our beautiful country.

  10. Crubagan says:

    Didn’t she want us to vote Lib Dem last time?

    “Nor do I think she is right in arguing that: ‘He (Miliband) won the leadership partly because he rejected the Iraq war.’ Sadly a more brutal reality likely stopped the comrades electing the former Foreign Secretary. ”

    It was the unions who voted for Ed. The majority of MPs/MEPs and party members voted for David.

  11. tommy b says:

    Toynbee is unintentionally hilarious lightweight click-bait, and a scion of the the ‘gentry’, she’s the inspiration for Private Eye’s ‘PollyFilla’ column, vacuous inanities prescribed for the huddled masses from the garden of her villa in Tuscany.

    Not so long ago she was telling people to vote LibDem with clothes-pegs on their noses’.

    Balls is the backroom fixer and maker of both Blair and the Milibands, introducing them to key US neo-cons, during his stint with the FT. Balls banker brother Andrew Balls paid himself a £4.5 million pounds ‘bonus’ last year, from taxpayers bailout money given to investment banking group Pimco (Pacific Investment Management Co).

    They, Labour today, really are a shower of crooks, through and through, corporate lackeys, perhaps even outstripping the Tories in venality and hypocrisy.

  12. tommy b says:

    I see (now) Annie’s comment above about Toynbee’s clothes-peg gobsmacker, don’t know how I missed that, sorry. Guess it probably was Labour she was cheerleading with the clothespeg on her nose, and not on that occasion the LibDems.

    Lobster Magazine no 68 is the source for Balls king-maker role and his brother’s eye-watering bonus.

  13. Bothy Basher says:

    Toynbee is right about one thing – the Celtic identity which ”has been embellished with dollops of ersatz folklore, most of it Victorian or later inventions – kilts, druids, eisteddfods, bagpipes, harps, shamrocks and by imposing dead languages ”

    Her sentiment if not the detail is spot on – I often refer to the kilt as the ‘skirt of shame” – banned in cultural warfare by English and Scots, then allowed (eg The Black Watch) if its wearers would fight Britain’s wars on the continent while their impoverished families were being shipped overseas to dispossess the natives of other countries, as they themselves had been.

    The ‘Braveheart’ mentality is a curse on Scotland.

    Of course Toynbee’s lot have their Morris Dancers, UKIP, Tories, Fabian Socialists, bulldogs, lumpen folk music and Essex Man to be ashamed of….

  14. Bothy Basher says:

    Well Darien, (your name so reminiscent of Scotland’s failed attempt at Empire),

    Ce site ne est pas un site français n’importe comment attrayante est ce pays. Donc abandonner tout commentaire prétentieux comme vous avez offert ici.

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