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Is austerity really necessary?

Hunt on his way to deliver the Autumn Statement. Dinendra Haria/Anadolu/Getty

The media has blindly accepted Jeremy Hunt’s line that austerity is a “bitter-tasting but necessary medicine”, says Owen Jones in The Guardian. When Rishi Sunak took office, for example, a BBC correspondent declared the new PM had no alternative but “to agree to spending cuts”. That’s simply not true. The Chancellor’s “slash-and-burn” approach is not inevitable; it’s a political choice. It was the same after 2008, when George Osborne’s cuts were accepted as the “necessary antidote to a deficit crisis”. There was no mention of the fact that the low cost of borrowing could have allowed for “extensive public spending”, just as there’s no mention today of the fact that the “supposed £50bn fiscal black hole” is really a made up figure based on the government’s own targets. We mustn’t fall for this nonsense again.

Alas, “there never seems to be a right time to reduce the deficit”, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. Not once in the past 50 years has the left accepted the need to try to balance the books. As for Osborne’s cuts, think about the alternative: without that period of austerity, public debt would have continued to soar and we would have entered the pandemic in the midst of a massive borrowing crisis. Hunt’s budget will no doubt be attacked as too severe – the tax rises “too great”, the borrowing “too little”. But remember Trussonomics, “a massive experiment of doing the opposite” that ended in catastrophic failure. The truth is, we’ve tested “to destruction” the idea that we can solve our problems by throwing borrowed money at them. Yes, austerity will hurt, but this is “no time to postpone the pain”.