Toby Young is wrong about the cuts and wrong about the march

Writing on the Telegraph website yesterday, Toby Young accused the TUC of “a ceaseless barrage of propaganda” about the cuts. Nicola Smith explains why he is wrong.

Writing on the Telegraph website yesterday, Toby Young accused the TUC of “a ceaseless barrage of propaganda” about the cuts.

Apparently the continual stream of media coverage given to our misleading views led half a million private and public sector workers, pensioners and children to choose to demonstrate in central London in Saturday under the misguided understanding, propagated by the TUC, that their services and jobs are at severe risk.

‘Cuts, what cuts?’ asks Young – all of those worried about the devastating impacts these negligible spending reductions will have (and our polling shows it’s not just half a million marchers but over half the country) are simply ‘useful idiots’.

It is tempting to suggest that there is only one idiot here. Denying that Britain is about to face the sharpest cuts in public spending in decades is simply wrong.

The IFS, hardly known for being producers of misleading propaganda, have stated that:

“The cuts to total public spending… are, after economy-wide inflation, set to be the deepest since World War II and the cuts to spending on public services will be the deepest since the four years beginning in April 1975.”

Reducing spending, while the population and its needs continue to grow, will have real impacts. The poorest will be hit hardest, unemployment will rise and services will suffer. And it won’t only be the public sector that is hit – with 38p in the pound of public spending going directly to private sector companies workers and businesses across the economy will, as the FT sets out, feel the impact.

But Young is keen to downplay the consequences that the cuts may have. He writes:

As Stephen Glover pointed out in Saturday’s Daily Mail, public expenditure in 2009-10 was £669 billion. In 2014-15, after these “savage” cuts have been imposed, it’s projected to be £764 – or £647 billion in real terms. That’s a cut of three per cent. That’s right – three per cent.”

This claim appears to be slightly at odds with the cuts to services set out in the CSR (page 10) – which makes clear that departmental spending is set to fall by 8.3 per cent overall (in real terms by 2014/15) with some budgets including the Home Office (23 per cent), Communities and Local Government (27 per cent) and Justice (23 per cent) facing significantly above average reductions.

And in the context of regular real terms rises in service spending over the last decade these cuts will inevitably be significant, with higher than forecast inflation, as the IFS again pointed out last week, also holding the potential to make the picture even worselast week the Telegraph reported that as a result of the rising cost of living the NHS faces the tightest settlement since the 1950s.

While benefit spending may rise in real terms over the next few years this is a consequence of a growing and ageing population (social security expenditure includes expenditure on the state pension), rising rents (leading to rises in Housing Benefit) and rising unemployment.

Let’s not pretend that the welfare system isn’t about to become extremely mean – CPI linked benefit rises, large cuts in Housing Benefit, a three-year freeze in Child Benefit, no more health in pregnancy grants for new mothers and a 20 per cent reduction in funding available to support disabled adults are only a few of the measures that will lead a significant reduction in state provided welfare in the UK.

Spending cuts are already starting to hit. Any children born since January will no longer receive a Child Trust Fund. From next week any out of work mother who has a new baby will not receive a £500 maternity grant. Close to half a million families will see the amount they receive to help them with the costs of childcare fall.

Public sector workers across the country will see, in the face of inflation that is pushing 5 per cent, their pay frozen. Thousands of voluntary sector groups will find their funding is cut. Support for people with learning disabilities, grants to help with home insulation, children’s centres, lollipop patrols, ESOL funding and domestic violence services are only a few of the hundreds of services already hit by cuts and documented on the TUC’s cuts watch.

Voices from across the political spectrum are entitled to their views on whether public spending should or should not be cut so far or so fast, on whether the balance of spending cuts to tax rises is right and on the role that growth can play in deficit reduction. But to deny that the cuts are actually taking place is wrong.

Young doesn’t stop there. He is also of the view that the TUC’s ‘misleading’ information was responsible for the actions of a few hundred violent hooligans who choose to engage in their own violent protest at the same time as the TUC march – apparently our policy arguments have inspired their actions.

I doubt there are many who agree with this view – the violence was completely separate from the TUC event. As the Metropolitan Police have stated, the behaviour of this minority “could not have been more markedly different” to that of those involved in the main event. The Met have also praised our organisation, our close cooperation with them throughout the event’s planning and the “overwhelmingly peaceful” march we staged.

With over 1,000 stewards, many hundreds of senior stewards (all of whom had been provided with detailed briefing and access to pre-march training), activities on hand for children and an event plan that allowed for the orderly dispersion of hundreds of thousands of people from central London, the organisation of the march was a clear success.

To claim the actions of a small group of violent trouble makers are the responsibility of the TUC is unfair – the only way to prevent their action would have been not to hold a protest at all, and given Toby Young’s strong support of individual freedoms I find it hard to believe that he’d be in favour of this democratic right being removed.

24 Responses to “Toby Young is wrong about the cuts and wrong about the march”

  1. George McLean

    Never mind, Toby. You can continue to praise the return of Bill Shankley as Liverpool FC manager as you so wonderfully did, as a “football supporter”, in a recent Any Questions? What else are you an expert on?

  2. Nicola Smith

    Hi Toby,

    Apologies – not sure how the wrong quote got in there. I have asked for it to be corrected. But given your post states that the cuts are 3 per cent in real terms my response still stands (and was written in response to your accurate post).



  3. Toby Young

    Thanks for correcting your original post, Nicola.

    And thank you, Michael, for referring me to the Treasury’s website. I note that in Chart 1 (p.6), Chart 1.2 (p.11) and Table 2.3 (p.47) of the Budget, “public spending” is defined as “Total Managed Expenditure”. So when you assert that “TME is not public spending”, you’re not stating an unambiguous fact that I would be a “fool” to contest, but making a claim that is both controversial and contradicted by your own source. Nor do I think it unambiguously wrong to use the word “cuts” to refer to the reduction in public spending (as defined by HM Treasury) in real terms between 2009-10 and 2015-16. Even you would acknowledge, I think, that that is only 3%.

    I’m not denying that cuts are taking place, Nicola. I’m merely pointing out that they are relatively mild – milder than the TUC’s rhetoric would have us believe – and that even after they’ve been imposed spending on public services will be much higher than it was in 2000 – in the case of the NHS, 92% higher. I wouldn’t for a moment deny the TUC’s right to protest, either. I was just making the point that the TUC must shoulder some of the responsibility for the lawless behaviour on Saturday, given that its misleading rhetoric about the cuts has undoubtedly contributed to the anger felt by groups like UK Uncut. If the EDL engaged in a prolonged bout of inflammatory rhetoric and then organised a march that resulted in similar levels of public disorder, I’m sure you’d hold the EDL at least partly responsible – and you’d be right to do so. That doesn’t mean the TUC should be banned from organising similar protests in future, any more than the EDL should be. But perhaps it could contribute to the clean-up costs next year.

    George, you should listen again to Any Questions. Whilst I praised both Liverpool FC’s recent resurgence and Bill Shankley, I didn’t claim that Shankley was the current manager.

  4. Toby Young

    By the way, I have to ask Nicola, where does the figure of half a million marchers come from? This is supposed to be an “evidence-based” blog. What evidence is there to support that claim?

  5. Nicola Smith

    Hi Toby,

    On the numbers our head of comms has provided our logic here:

    I don’t agree that our policy work or language inflamed the violence – I doubt the hooligans smashing in shop windows have ever given much thought to what the TUC has to say – in my view they just wanted an excuse to commit a crime. So I think we’ll have to disagee on that one.

    And on the scale of the cuts I think we’re also in disagreement. I don’t think that the sharpest retrenchment since the war is relatively mild, and as our research shows the value of services that will be lost for very poor families will make a significant different to their lives. For example, one woman I know will, from April, be losing access to her free ESOL class, will be over £1000 worse off each year as various benefits she receives to help her with the costs of bringing up her children are cut and will no longer have access to a local children’s centre.

    Anyway best wishes – thanks for a pleasant debate!


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