A spending spree at what cost?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson inspects an ambulance during a visit to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, to announce the government's NHS spending pledge of 1.8 billion. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 5, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Darren Staples/PA Wire EMN-190608-112613001
Prime Minister Boris Johnson inspects an ambulance during a visit to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, to announce the government's NHS spending pledge of 1.8 billion. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 5, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Darren Staples/PA Wire EMN-190608-112613001

Unlike certain Prime Ministers, I remember 2010. I recall that we were told that we couldn’t live beyond our means, and that a programme of austerity was absolutely necessary, writes cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the Labour Party on Peterborough City Council.

I remember the Liberal Democrat MP David Laws coining the phrase, “cuts that care”.

Given the rise we’ve seen in crime due to diminished police forces, and the rise in homelessness given the lack of social housing provision, and the rise in waiting times due to underfunding of the NHS, it’s difficult to say that the cuts cared at all. Rather, they landed on those who could least sustain the blow.

Fast forward to today, and the picture has changed. Our national debt has doubled since 2010, but never mind: there is money for Brexit. There is money for 20,000 police officers, though that was the number that was cut. We have money to cut taxes as well. Theresa May said there was no magic money tree, but then magicked up billions for her allies in Northern Ireland in order to sustain her government.

Our newly minted Prime Minister has apparently conjured up a forest full of redwoods sprouting fifty pound notes. It would be gratifying if a certain level of scepticism were applied to the Prime Minister’s promises. However, scepticism is now apparently seen as pessimism; I recall my schooldays and reading Dickens’ “David Copperfield”. The character of Mr Micawber springs to mind: he was constantly in debt, but constantly sure that something would turn up. If I recall correctly, in the end, Mr Micawber had exhausted his fortune in this country and ended up in Australia.

When something is conjured up out of thin air, we should be cautious. I was pleased that Labour’s manifesto in 2017 was fully costed. I doubt the same level of financial rigour is being applied to the Prime Minister’s promises. He has the appearance of a student who has just been issued a credit card and is spending it on a night on the town: the card machine beeps, another sum is deducted, the party goes on, and it seems like the night will be without end.

But the dawn always comes, and a reckoning arrives with the morning post, in a crisp white envelope marked “Private and Confidential”. The tally is received, the bill must be paid. But without an ability to pay one’s way, or indeed, of being seen as reliable in paying one’s obligations, that bill becomes a hard number, difficult to diminish except through being honest with oneself, and via difficult choices and effort.

I hope we do see 20,000 police back on the beat. I hope that homelessness is diminished. I hope that we can deal with our national debt: it is certainly not an inheritance I wish to bequeath to my children.

However, without a basis in fact, it’s difficult to see how the current Administration can achieve all this. I believe they won’t. That’s not pessimism, that’s looking facts in the face.