The Johnson government’s propensity to mislead the public has been widely documented, for example in this video by Peter Stefanovic. After the video achieved 25 million views and was mentioned in Parliament by Dawn Butler, the accuracy of Stefanovic’s commentary and the inaccuracy of Johnson’s claims was confirmed by Full Fact.

There is no question that any misleading of Parliament or of the public is both wrong and dangerous.

Our Mythbuster video – the trailer for a series of explanatory videos – explores the single most damaging lie of all – the lie that the UK can no longer ‘afford’ to remain a civilised country. This article gives a bit more detail for those who cannot wait for the follow-up videos.

Propagating the myth that the UK can no longer afford to remain civilised is the most serious of all because:

  • It has tangible costs to all, especially the most vulnerable in society;
  • It is an all-purpose cover for bad policy;
  • It is utterly unfounded in fact.

It has tangible costs to the most vulnerable in society

In May, the government claimed that the impact of Covid on its finances meant that sticking to its manifesto pledge on Foreign Aid was no longer ‘affordable.’

Closer to home, the Education Recovery Commissioner for England, Sir Kevan Collins, recently resigned because the government knocked 90% of his proposed catch-up budget, again on the grounds of ‘unaffordability.’

For similar reasons, apparently, now is ‘not the right time’ to give nurses and doctors a long overdue real-terms pay rise (anything under 2.5% is less than inflation and so in real terms is a pay-cut – which is what they have been receiving for the last decade).

It is an all-purpose cover for bad policy

And, of course, the whole austerity programme was justified on the basis of the ‘state of government finances.’ Despite the fact that almost no economists believe that to be a wise response.

And austerity is an umbrella under which all manner of destructive policies can shelter. Because of austerity, local authority budgets have been slashed – and with them the provision of local services to those most in need: libraries have closed, youth centres and activities have been discontinued, services have been rationed, et cetera. Because of austerity, and despite promises that it would be protected, the NHS has now been starved of funds for over a decade. Because of austerity, schools have been underfunded. Because of austerity we now have 20,000 fewer police officers, and many crimes can no longer be investigated. Because of austerity the Armed Forces have been scaled-down. And because of austerity, we ‘cannot afford’ to tackle climate change.

In other words, if we swallow the idea that austerity is necessary, we risk unwinding of our domestic social contract and failing to act as a responsible global citizen.

It is utterly unfounded in fact

But why are we calling this constant claim of unaffordability a ‘lie’? There are three key reasons. The first is that governments are simply not the same as households. Claiming that governments should act like households is dangerously misleading.

The second reason is that the UK’s government debt is – even after COVID – not at unusually high levels. There is no rational reason to panic. The constant refrain from Chancellors and Prime Ministers that we have to get the debt back under control (see the video) suggests either that they are unaware of the data, or that they are deliberately misleading their colleagues in parliament and the country as a whole.

The third reason is that the government has – through the Bank of England – created £895 billion out of nothing when it wanted to.  This has not caused hyperinflation (despite many assurances from the extreme right that it would) and there is no reason to fear that it will do so in future. So when you hear a Prime Minister saying that the government has no money, or that “there is no magic money tree” (again, see the video) this either means that they are unaware that the UK has not been on the gold standard for many decades or that they are knowingly employing a rhetorical device with no basis in fact. In either case, propagating this myth is a sign of not being fit for office.

In reality, the myth of unaffordability is simply a lie.  Quite unfounded in fact but a rhetorically powerful cover for damaging cuts to the fabric of UK society. The lie gives governments the ability to implement the deeply unpalatable market fundamentalist agenda without ever having to spell out what that agenda is.

If we had believed this lie in 1948 when the NHS was created and government debt was at far higher levels than today, the NHS would never have existed. And if we believe it now, there is a real risk that it will cease to exist.

If you would like to help us spread this important message, please sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.