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Ealing and Northfield National politics

Don’t mention the war

Cllr Bell then reaches for his tin helmet and starts making references to the Second World War:

Incidentally by comparison the national debt after the Second World War was a much higher percentage of GDP than we have now and it took until 2003 to pay it off. Did the 1945 Labour government start slashing public investment to cut the national debt? Of course not – it built the National Health Service and the welfare state in the teeth of Tory opposition.

Thankfully our debt now is only a fraction of what is what at the end of the Second World War although it is rising with shocking speed, at a rate of £155 billion per annum (the deficit). But then we had just fought the defining conflict of the 20th century and lost about half a million killed. How can Labour have ramped up our debts so high in peacetime? Whatever you think about the world wars they were BIG. How have a few five-a-day co-ordinators got us to this? It is not as if the Iraq and Afghan wars are what is driving our debt.

Bell is right that we stopped re-paying war debt in 2003 but that did not mean that we had paid off the national debt. Coincidentally it was in about 2003 that Labour started to really open the spending sluices.

Bell is just wrong about public spending at the end of the war; it fell precipitously. It fell as low under the post-war Labour government as a proportion of GDP as it did under Margaret Thatcher in the early eighties. Incidentally the reason that Labour could “afford” to create the NHS is that it merely appropriated the existing health infrastructure from charities and local authorities. Much of the “Tory opposition” related to this appropriation. Imagine if the government turned around today and said we are going to appropriate your pension assets and give you a state provided pension instead. Would you feel that the government had done you a favour or merely stolen your assets?

Finally, one of the main reasons that our exploding debt is so dangerous is the similarly exploding debt service costs. The budget papers showed these doubling in five years from £31 billion in 2009/10 to £63 billion in 2014/15.