Austerity Britain: an orderly decline?

By Thomas Pike

As this is to be my first post for Conservative for Liberty, I thought I’d try something a little bold. Instead of tackling the admittedly very juicy subjects of Westminster rent-seeking and mass surveillance of the population (which our selfless public servants have been so kind as to gift us with this week), I’ve decided to go for something which I hope a little more inspiring. How different is the political climate today from that of the 1960-70s, and what role do those like us have to play in it?

Two days ago, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute for Government both came to a rather bleak conclusion; that the era of modern austerity Britain would likely last until 2020. Furthermore, we are likely to witness considerable tax increases in 2015, regardless of who becomes the PM’s next-door neighbour, and that our below-par growth will continue for many years to come. In short, the so-called ‘twenty-teens’ will go down as a prolonged and painful diet in its chapter of our great island story. Very inspirational, I know…

But, while the arguments over the dispatch boxes rage over what we should be cutting, what we should be taxing and what is the correct monetary sum to be pouring down the gullet of a morbidly obese nationalised sacred cow, there is a lack of challenge in Westminster over the fundamental nature of our economy and our society. An implicit consensus exists: that the welfare state is good for Britain, and that the welfare state must survive at all costs.  Both are positions to which I hope you are mildly sceptical.

As all good Conservatives should know, this is not the first time in our history that such a consensus has existed across the floor of the Commons. Nor is the first time that such a consensus has been pedalled predominantly by socialists, under such slogans as ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘prosperity’. And it is most certainly not the first time that such a consensus has attempted to slowly strangle our country.

We are simply unfortunate enough to live during a time when a paradigm of excessive public spending and state regulation rules supreme. And one, moreover, when few politicians want to admit their actions, as well as their failure to act, have locked Britain into a decline she is unlikely to emerge from until the 2020s. And that’s just if things don’t get worse.

Yet, despite all this, few on the green benches dare suggest this recession is not simply a cyclical slowdown caused by a particularly bad financial crisis but is instead a result of the core structural failings of a project tested to breaking point by the last government: the high-taxing, high-borrowing, big-spending welfare state.

So, now that I’ve concluded we’re all destined to a miserable existence in the economic doldrums of the next ten years, let’s have something a more little inspirational.

The intellectual and political crossroads we currently stand at are not at all dissimilar to those of the 1970s. We can maintain the status quo, continuing down the road of managed decline, desperately hoping that we’ll one day reach the end with our beloved large state intact, maybe with a few chips around the edges. Or we can take the Keynesian approach, and turbo charge ourselves down that path, enlarging the burden we must carry because surely it will make our journey shorter.

Or we, as classical liberals and free market believers, can bring a third option to the table. That we are not facing economic disaster, but instead an opportunity we have yet take, and one we must eagerly grab with both hands. That the huge state, with extreme debts and exorbitant spending does not free the poor man, but instead commits him to his life of poverty, devoid of a chance of escape. And that the free market, with both sweeping spending cuts and tax cuts, can provide the solution to our stagnant growth, and our overcommitted and ineffectual welfare state.

Alas, such an option is not quite on the table yet. But as a gentleman, I believe it is truly our duty not only to enter the debate and present such arguments, but to win the debate itself. We must ensure we are the next generation of radical thinkers whose ideas change our country and we do not simply become a textbook footnote relevant only to GCSE history students of the future. We cannot allow the Establishment to commit such a criminal act as to simply ensure the orderly management of our decline.

But while living through such times may be unfortunate, the fact that we have the chance to change our times, I believe, is very fortuitous indeed. So, in the words of Baroness Thatcher, describing the CPS, we must “expose the follies and self-defeating consequences of government intervention….’to think the unthinkable.'”

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