Monday, 7 June 2010

They won't feel our pain. Not for a while, anyway...

When David Cameron said in his set-piece speech yesterday that everyone is going to share the pain, he was talking through his old Etonian top hat. Some people will hardly notice the impact of the proposed cuts, whereas others will potentially have their lives turned upside down.

As the Prime Minister spoke, another story was hitting the 'weird' and 'offbeat' sections of the leading national newspapers. Three rundown garages in the celebrity enclave of Primrose Hill, north London, are being offered for sale at the staggering price of £1.25m. It's amazing what people will pay to buy a scrap of land next door to Gwyneth Paltrow and Jamie Oliver, isn't it? Having spent a couple of years on the Hill myself during the mid-90s (in a poorly converted flat on Ainger Road with a permanently broken boiler), I can vouch for the area's salubrious character. I really did sit in a beautiful laundrette with David Miliband and pop across the road to a cafĂ© where Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller were in earnest conversation. Even so, the estate agents flogging the grotty lock-ups are chancers and anyone prepared to pay the asking price should be knocking on the door of the nearest analyst. Who would probably be a couple of doors down.

My point is that most residents of Primrose Hill will be immune from the effects of the government's cuts. But if you take a walk through the high street and over the bridge towards Chalk Farm and Camden Town, it would be a very different story.

Are the Cabinet members really in the same boat as us? Like hell they are. They took a symbolic pay cut at their first meeting, but a clear majority of the Con-Dem con artists who've taken their place at the table don't even rely on their ministerial salaries. They are millionaires. According to The Sunday Times last month, Dave Cameron's estimated £3.4m fortune is small fry compared to the amounts owned by some colleagues. The paper reveals that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has a mansion with a tennis court and swimming pool in Surrey, but still likes to keep a £2m pied-a-terre in Chelsea. If the 8.04 to London Waterloo gets cancelled in the forthcoming budget butchery, I suspect he's not going to be unduly concerned.

If this all sounds pretty grim (and it certainly will to those of you who voted Labour or perhaps who voted Lib Dem in the naive belief that you were keeping out the Tories), there is a silver lining. It's possible that the rich could suffer simply through the sheer stupidity of the Con-Dem cuts regime. Look at it this way. The sensible approach to tackling the financial black hole is to encourage economic growth and see a positive return from the enforced investment we made in the British banking system. This is perfectly feasible and the kind of strategy that the former Chancellor Alistair Darling was pursuing. Of course, there will have to be significant cuts in public spending too, but the current government's over-zealous approach to the deficit threatens the very growth that will ultimately rescue us.

As the cuts bite, the public sector will start to choke off private sector businesses that rely on government contracts. Jobs will be lost on both sides of the divide. Unemployment will start rising again and people who are out of work don't pay taxes. Worse still, they need benefits. And almost certainly they won't be frequenting the local shops, restaurants and leisure facilities they used to patronise. Holidays will be cancelled and large purchases postponed. We then get the secondary squeeze on all the service industries that rely on consumer spending. Net result: another recessionary wave, which wipes a whole load of value off share prices and the smile off the faces of those who thought they would shelter from the storm in their garages in Primrose Hill.

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