Yesterday Nick Clegg made a speech to the Liberal Democrat conference which was steadfast and robust in defence of the coalition’s economic policy, despite the depressing evidence this week that the economy isn’t changing course either from its current trajectory of nowhere. He promised there would be no turning back on the cuts and auterity, however many jobs are lost and however many people struggle to make ends meet thanks to the VAT rise and inflation.
Does this sound familar? It should. For although it is right that things never completely run in parallel, it is indeed the case that history may never repeat itself, but it rhymes. It was around this stage in the political and economic cycle – at a party conference – that Margaret Thatcher made the infamous ‘Lady’s not for turning’ speech. Then the UK witnessed riots on the streets, rampant unemployment, a royal wedding, a foreign intervention and a belligerent government hell-bent on destroying the fabric of our society. I barely exaggerate. Even shoulder pads are making something of a comeback in 2011.
However, maybe now is more like 1931, with a prolonged slump looming, a currency mechanism collapsing at the same time as the US economy, a rise in far right extremism and little help for the poor and jobless.We seem to be heading for continued gloom because of the Con Dems’ obsession with cutting the deficit too far and too fast, stifling growth and productivity and making the situation worse for all of us. Although they have won welcome concessions from the Tories on some issues, on the fundamentals Nick Clegg needs to wake up and pull out of this marriage of convenience for the sake of his party in future but also for the country. Just as in 1981 and 1931, ordinary people feel that overall Britain is going in the wrong direction or is in the doldrums - the only thing that would change that elusive yet crucial feeling of a lack of confidence is investment on Keynesian terms to jump-start the economy, a fall in VAT and a slower trimming of the excess we built up saving the banks from collapse. Unfortunately though it seems the Cleggy’s not for turning.