Upbeat Cameron Paints Post-Austerity Britain

The prime minister seems to have forgotten that more austerity is still needed.

British prime minister David Cameron in Riga, Latvia, February 28, 2013
British prime minister David Cameron in Riga, Latvia, February 28, 2013 (Flickr/UK in Latvia)

A day after Labour’s Ed Miliband claimed his was the party of fiscal responsibility, British prime minister David Cameron said the Conservatives were really the party of “working people.”

Unveiling the ruling party’s manifesto for the May election in Swindon in the south of England on Tuesday, Cameron promised voters to “turn the good news on our economy into a good life for you and your family.”

Growth hit 2.6 percent last year while unemployment has fallen below 6 percent. At 73.2 percent, the employment rate is at its highest since 1971. Inflation is almost zero. Food and fuel prices are falling and households’ disposable income is at a six-year high. The Conservatives can convincingly claim to leave Britain a better place after five years in power yet Labour complains the party hasn’t done enough for ordinary families who have seen few to no increases in wages.

Cameron promised to take minimum wage earners out of tax, provide up to thirty hours of free childcare — the equivalent of £5,000 per year — to “working families” and five some 1.3 million housing association tenant the right to buy their homes at a discount.

According to the Financial Times, Cameron’s claim that the Conservatives are “the party of working people” is part of an attempt to further squeeze UKIP — the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party that is especially popular in low-income areas — and win back voters who used to be attracted to Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s.

The relaunch of the Thatcherite “right to buy” scheme is aimed at 1.3 million people in housing association properties who will now have the same right to buy their home as their counterparts living in council homes.

Cameron desperately needs more voters as his party remains neck and neck with Labour in the opinion polls. If the Conservatives don’t expand their support, they would likely fall short of a parliamentary majority while Labour could form an informal coalition with the Scottish National Party.

Political commentators pointed out the upbeat rhetoric was a departure from the Conservatives’ solemn warnings that more austerity is yet to come.

“Gone too the warnings of red flashing lights on the dashboard,” writes the BBC’s Nick Robinson. “Gone all talk of difficult decisions.”

In their place comes not one but three giveaways — an extension of the right to buy, a doubling of free childcare and a promise that tax allowances will rise to ensure that the minimum wage is tax free. This after a series of others — not least the pledge to cut inheritance tax and spend at least £8 billion a year on the NHS.

The promise to take minimum wage earners out of tax altogether is especially curious, argues the BBC’s Robert Peston, when the Conservatives have traditionally stood against “something for nothing.”

And what’s odd about guaranteeing that huge numbers of employed people will never pay tax is that David Cameron appears to be comfortable about the notion that these people can enjoy all the expensive services and benefits provided by the state without making even a gesture of a contribution toward them.

The Conservatives’ optimistic rhetoric does not befit a country that is still borrowing £76 billion this year, argues the Financial Times‘ Janan Ganesh.

The most obvious cuts and tax rises have already been made, leaving some excruciating work ahead under either party’s consolidation plan. And that work might take place in the context of a slowing world economy.

Although all major parties have credible plans for eliminating the deficit — the Conservatives would cut more public services, Labour would raise more taxes — their emphasis on extra spending and post-austerity Britain is not preparing the public mood for the cuts that still need to be made.

At precisely the moment that politicians should be shoring up public resolve, they have lapsed into the competitive bidding of a conventional campaign.

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