Con Dems divided on austerity

by Daphne Liddle

THE GENERAL Election of 2015 is approaching and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition is falling apart on major issues of continuing austerity, immigration and the European Union.

As the Tories move further to the extreme right-wing in order to appease the xenophobic friends of UKIP within their ranks, their more reasonable members are getting very worried, while the Lib-Dems are panicking.

Last week in the House of Commons Labour MP Michael Meacher tabled a motion calling for a “commission of inquiry” into the impact of the Government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty and it was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes — including support from Liberal Democrats and even Tories and with only two MPs voting against it.

He presented a very powerful statement beginning: “It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs.”

Among the long list of statistics he quoted are:

Meacher also spoke about the ultra-rich: “Britain’s 1,000 richest citizens — contributing just a bit? Their current remuneration — I am talking about a fraction of the top one per cent — is £86,000 a week, which is 185 times the average wage. They received a windfall of more than £2,000 a week from the five per cent cut in the higher rate of income tax, and their wealth was recently estimated by The Sunday Times at nearly half a trillion pounds. Let us remember that we are talking about 1,000 people.”

But what he has won is only support for a commission of inquiry and it is unlikely to have any impact before the 2015 election. He would probably benefit the victims of austerity more by getting his own party leader, Ed Miliband, to notice these horrendous statistics and to commit to reverse them.

Chancellor George Osborne was lecturing the European Union again on Wednesday morning, issuing an ultimatum that it must reform or Britain will quit.

One of his accusations against the EU was the high proportion of the EU’s budget that goes on welfare. Yet his austerity multiplies the demands on welfare. In socialist countries there is no unemployment or homelessness and workers are not forced into debt or madness by anxiety or over-long working hours.

Osborne and Cameron also want to change the EU laws on immigration — though Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg has been accused of blocking the publication of a Home Office review recommending curbs on immigration within the EU.

This report is being prepared as a tool for Cameron in his efforts to negotiate a new relationship with the EU but Clegg’s delaying tactics may defer its publication until after the May EU elections.

But Clegg is not along in opposing this. Robert Chote, head of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said immigration is beneficial to the economy because new arrivals are usually of working age and thus pay taxes.

Meanwhile Tory veteran Ken Clarke has also opposed Cameron’s stance on immigration and the EU. He said that immigrants make Britain a “far more exciting and healthier” society, Ken and rejected claims by the Prime Minister that European Union rules have let to “vast migrations” of foreigners.