It is irresponsible to pay no heed to national debt

Morning View
Morning View

One of the easiest political stances to take in Europe today is to be opposed to austerity.

Syriza have just won yet another election on that basis in Greece.

Sinn Fein may yet enter power in the Republic thanks to a similar platform.

Jeremy Corbyn has made it a centrepiece of his political appeal, and swept the board in the Labour leadership election.

There are heavyweight economists such as the American Paul Krugman who argue against austerity.

In Northern Ireland, all the five main parties are opposed to austerity. Even the unionist parties seem to oppose any significant planks of restraint to public finances.

Not one of those Stormont parties is prepared to argue for welfare reform on its own merits. They do so on the basis of avoiding the financial penalty that the Treasury is imposing if we choose to maintain an expensive welfare system.

Austerity and cuts sound ugly so those who oppose it sound generous and brave.

But they are not brave and they are not generous.

In fact, they are irresponsible.

For all the supposed cruelty of “Tory cuts”, British debt is still rising. The deficit has been falling in recent years, thanks to the financial prudence of the coalition government, which the current administration intends to continue.

But that only means that the UK’s vast debt pile is rising at slower pace than it once was.

And it emerged yesterday that the British deficit actually rose in August.

Even if the deficit was eliminated tomorrow, the debt pile would still be huge.

It is wrong for incumbent governments to do long-term damage to the nation’s finances by chasing short-term praise among voters who might not be interested in distinctions such as deficit and debt.