Prime Minister Theresa May declared an end to austerity in her keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference this week.
While her startling entrance to Abba’s Dancing Queen grabbed the headlines, her speech unveiled a number of new domestic initiatives:
- The end of austerity measures which led to huge public spending cuts over the last decade.
- The cap on local authority borrowing to build new council homes being lifted.
- New targets for early detection of cancers.
- Fuel duty frozen for the ninth year in a row.
Mrs May also appealed for unity in her divided party and urged members and the public at large to get behind her plans to deliver a Brexit deal.
The surprise in her speech was the promise to end ten years of cuts which started with the bank bailouts in 2008.
She told the audience: “A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.
“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years.
“But the British people need to know that the end is in sight. And our message to them must be this: we get it.”
Her pledge contradicts Chancellor Philip Hammond’s stated position that cuts must continue to reduce the deficit.
The Treasury’s stated aim is to persist with deficit reduction for at least another seven years, with more planned cuts to public services.
Any move to end austerity will require higher Government borrowing and tax rises.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn promised just that at his party conference last week and observers believe this was Mrs May’s attempt to steal the initiative from him.
“It is no surprise that we have had a range of different views expressed this week. But my job as prime minister is to do what I believe to be in the national interest,” she said.
The Treasury insists that future public spending will be dictated by the sort of Brexit deal Britain secures.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Mrs May’s austerity pledge was “a con.”
Mrs May also warned the conference that if they did not back her Brexit plans, Britain faced leaving without a deal.
A day earlier, Boris Johnson had rubbished Mrs May’s Chequers plans in a speech to a capacity audience.
Mrs May retorted: “Leadership is doing what you believe to be right, and having the courage and determination to see it through.”
There were also frequent attacks on Labour during her hour-long speech, which she dismissed as ‘the Jeremy Corbyn party.”