“Anti-austerity” is one of those wonderful catch-all phrases that responsibility-shirking politicians so enjoy. After all, who could possibly be “pro-austerity”?
Of course, it turns out those who shout the loudest are usually the most guilty. “Austerity” has developed a political meaning quite distinct from its dictionary meaning; it is of course usefully vague and seems to mean “an overall policy in support of public spending reductions”.
Who on earth would support that terrible idea? Since when did less spending on stuff get anyone any votes?
Well, last month as it happens; you cannot realistically be “pro-austerity” in this political Newspeak, but you can of course be “pro-low taxes”. This is, of course, the same thing ultimately – and it is quite popular.
And of course there is no Northern Irish party more pro-low taxes (and, therefore, pro-austerity as an inevitable consequence) than the SDLP. After all, the SDLP is so supportive of low taxes, it even believes people living in £1.2 million mansions should pay just a third of their rates bill. (It is very important, naturally, for a “social democratic” party to defend “vulnerable people” who may not otherwise be able to afford the February mid-term ski-trip or the brand new 7-series.)
Apparently it is quite reasonable that some poor bugger living in Cornwall who already pays double the Northern Ireland average in household taxes plus water bills, prescription charges and full-whack tuition fees should contribute to the cost of Northern Ireland’s public services; but a chap in Cultra with a Bentley in the driveway who actually benefits directly from those services should pay just a sixth of those household taxes and none of the rest of it. Quite reasonable, that is, if you have absolutely no concept of fairness at all. Even Sinn Fein gets that the boy in Cultra should contribute more. but this has proven beyond the grasp of the SDLP.
There is, of course, the small matter that the poor bugger in Cornwall elected a Conservative government who also see no reason that he should pay so much for public services when people in Cultra (and Carnalbanagh and Cullaville for that matter) get away with paying so comparatively little and when the representatives they elect waste it on inefficiency and segregation.
So the crux of the matter is this: the SDLP is the most pro-austerity party of them all. By demanding we pay vast sums to support a welfare system which does not work, intervening to support segregation of public services such as teacher training, and refusing point blank to consider raising any further revenue whatsoever – even from people in £1.2 million mansions – it is enforcing austerity on the public in a way which goes well beyond anything the DUP or Conservatives propose.
If the SDLP were serious about being “anti-austerity”, it would support integration of public services (starting with teacher training); and it would support revenue raising from the wealthiest (starting with having everyone pay all their rates), thus enabling vast sums (£2b or 20% of the current resource budget under devolved control) to be re-allocated to “front-line public services” and “protecting the vulnerable”. But the SDLP does not want to re-allocate money to front-line services or to protect the vulnerable; it just wants to play the blame game.
For a once great party, the SDLP’s fundamentalist pro-austerity stance, going well beyond that advocated by anyone else, is a disgrace.