Robert Griffiths says the autumn statement was just more of the same from this rotten coalition
Chancellor George Osborne has rarely looked so pleased with himself as when he presented the coalition government’s autumn statement on Thursday.
Keen to highlight Britain’s emergence from the deepest economic recession since the late 1920s, his triumphalist speech included the familiar refrain that “today in Britain, employment is at an all-time high.”
The BBC dutifully echoes this truism when reporting the official unemployment figures every month. Indeed, the monthly number of people at work is now reported as though it were more significant than the number unemployed.
Yet employment figures usually reflect the underlying upward trend in population growth. One or two major recessions and world wars aside, the number of people in Britain in a job has risen almost every year since the end of the Black Death in 1350.
That it increases almost every month as well should hardly be headline news.
Nor should it be the cause for extraordinary self-congratulation that Britain’s economy is in recovery. Only Gordon Brown and his economic advisers imagined that they had abolished capitalism’s economic cycle.
Marx stripped away most of the mysteries of the growth-boom-bust-recovery cycle in the four volumes of Capital – I’m including Theories of Surplus Value – back in the 19th century.
Recovery is made possible by the cheapening of labour power and the concentration of capital, which makes economic activity more profitable again.
The real value of wages in Britain has fallen continuously for more than four years, since September 2009.
Monopolisation has intensified as weaker companies go the wall while stronger ones buy them up and prepare to increase market share. Banks, private equity and other “vulture capital” funds increasingly own or control key enterprises in the genuinely productive sectors.
As the most predatory, parasitic, non-productive elements of monopoly capital come to dominate the British economy as a whole so, too, they have supplanted manufacturing (especially armaments), engineering and construction companies as the Conservatives’ main paymasters.
City of London donors have doubled their share of Tory Party funding since the 2010 general election, reaching almost 40 per cent and £4.3 million last year.
The biggest contribution (£1.3m) came from Michael Farmer, the founder of commodities hedge fund RK Capital. He will ensure that his loot and that from other bankers and speculators is well spent – Farmer is also co-treasurer of the Tory Party.
They will be well pleased with the measures announced by their fellow millionaire Osborne on Thursday. These hand yet more lavish subsidies to big business on top of the tax cuts on high incomes and monopoly profits.
There will be a massive £50 billion extra available in state subsidies for exports to China following Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest begging expedition to Beijing.
Who said we don’t have the money for first-class public services and welfare benefits?
Stamp duty will be abolished on speculation in “exchange-traded funds,” a growing financial market in tracker fund bonds. Those latest City donations are already paying dividends.
Big business will receive a new raft of tax benefits in relation to business rates, National Insurance contributions, hiring of apprentices and fracking for shale gas.
But there will be no windfall taxes on energy and retail monopoly profits. Instead, the extra state pension of £2.95 a week from April will be swallowed up in rising household fuel costs.
Nor, for all of his blustering big talk, will the Chancellor be cracking down on the corporate tax dodgers like Amazon, Google, Starbucks, Top Shop, Tesco and co.
His autumn statement announced the “largest package of measures to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion, fraud and error so far this Parliament.” Osborne boasted that it would raise £9bn over the next five years.
Yet even by its own admission Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs underestimates that £20bn is lost to the public purse through tax fraud every year. Less benign estimates put the annual loss at around £70bn if not more.
The reality is that HMRC is targeting small and medium-sized traders, contractors and buy-to-let fraudsters. Huge tax loopholes will continue to allow the big fish to escape the Treasury net.
As the Commons public accounts committee pointed out recently, Britain’s four biggest accountancy firms employ 9,000 specialists to advise companies on international tax law.
In the area of “transfer pricing” – the main mechanism by which companies avoid paying taxes where they should – the Big Four have four times as many staff as HMRC.
Osborne now pledges an extra £154m to crack down on fat cat fraudsters, deploying several thousand new tax inspectors.
Yet this is urinating into the wind when set against unchanged comprehensive spending review plans to cut the HMRC budget by £2bn and staff by 10,000 by 2015.
It seems that this unelected Tory-Lib Dem regime will do everything about tax fraud except put the fraudsters in prison and close down the dozen and more tax havens – from the Isle of Man to the British Virgin Islands – operating under British jurisdiction.
Just as they will do everything about rising rail and energy prices except freeze them and take the railways, gas and electricity back into public ownership.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto
This article also appeared in the Morning Star