Ben Lowry: Cutting debt should not be called ‘austerity’ but ‘responsibility’

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, bottom right, waves as members of his party applaud him during a no confidence session at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Friday, June 1, 2018. In his six years in office, Mr Rajoy displayed an unwavering commitment to reducing the national debt (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, bottom right, waves as members of his party applaud him during a no confidence session at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Friday, June 1, 2018. In his six years in office, Mr Rajoy displayed an unwavering commitment to reducing the national debt (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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The career of Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is not one that I have followed closely.

I see that it has ended in a corruption scandal. But I do not need to know that much about Mr Rajoy to know that there is something significant to be said about his legacy.

He is reported to have displayed an unwavering commitment to reducing the national debt in Spain during his six-year premiership.

During roughly the same period, since the Liberal Democrats bravely did the right thing and endorsed the Tory austerity programme in 2010, Britain has made progress in reducing the fiscal deficit.

But the deficit is not the same as the debt. It is the annual shortfall in revenue to expenditure. This has only been cut, and not eliminated.

It means that the UK’s debt pile is heading ever upwards, albeit now at a slower rate than before.

The older I get the deeper the contempt I feel for politicians who demand endless public expenditure. They seek popularity and project themselves as generous when they are almost the opposite, displaying the epitome of political irresponsibility.

It is ‘spend, spend, spend’ for us, the voters, and so bequeath the debt to younger generations.

There is even a question mark over whether democracies can ever get a handle on debt. Whenever a government does the right but hard thing of cutting debt, it earns the opprobrium of populist rivals who eventually win power.

They use the power to spend, spend, spend to stay popular, so racking up debt again, at times destroying economies in the process.

‘Austerity’ is the wrong name for cuts. It should be ‘responsibility’.

There is currently a legal battle over an anonymous bequest to the nation of £500,000 in 1928 to pay off the debt. The fund is now £400 million but the UK debt is £1.78 trillion.

The annual interest on that debt costs taxpayers £48 billion, or £130 million a day. The generous bequest will make no headway on our vast debt, selfishly accrued, and barely even pay off any of its interest.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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