What do the British and American elites have in common? Quite a lot, as we know. But last week the symmetry was particularly striking. First UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond generated headlines by calling for more cuts in welfare spending in order to prevent George Osborne’s deficit reduction programme from impacting any further on the British Armed Forces.
Hammond insisted that any further cuts would diminish Britain’s military capability, and that the government should prioritise ‘ defending the country and maintaining law and order.’ At a time when Osborne’s £10 billion cuts package has yet to kick in fully, it’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the costs of ‘defending the country.’
In 2010, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had already cost more than £20 billion. Last month the National Audit Office found that a number of projects commissioned by the Ministry of Defence had overshot their initial costs by £468 million. These included the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft, and something called the Falcon communication system, which was designed for use in Afghanistan at a cost of £32 million and ‘will not be deployed in theatre’.
Few of those who condemn the UK’s ‘bloated’ welfare budget ever talk about these inflated military budgets or question what they are actually intended to do.
Hammond gave this interview in the Arctic, where the Royal Marines are training for what the Torygraph describes as ‘a new front line for the Armed Forces after the withdrawal from Afghanistan’, in a region whose ‘huge natural resources [have become] increasingly crucial to Britain’s energy supply’.
So while the military prepares for this new ‘era of contingency’ by spending more money on new weapons systems, and spends billions on new weapons systems, people on benefits must pay ‘bedroom taxes’ or leave their houses and neighbourhoods, soup kitchens and food banks are surging all over the country, and rising energy bills are forcing millions into fuel poverty – and Our Man in the Arctic wants even deeper cuts.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the White House announced that Obama was proposing to accept Republican demands for cuts in welfare spending to reduce the budget and mitigate the impact of the across-the-board ‘sequestration’ cuts that came into force last week.
This deal would form part of a compromise solution, in which Republicans would agree to accept tax increases. According to Yahoo!News:
Republicans have long argued that the only way to tame budget deficits over the long haul is by slowing the cost of sprawling social safety net programs. These include the Social Security retirement program and Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly, disabled and poor that are becoming more expensive as a large segment of the U.S. population hits retirement age.
The Republicans, like the Conservatives, have long despised these ‘sprawling’ programs, while remaining the most fervent promoters of the military-industrial complex, which now consumes more than $729 billion of the US budget annually. As Yahoo! notes:
At the heart of Washington’s persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and gain control of the $16.7 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy. Government red ink also rose over the last decade after the enactment of across-the-board tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 secured by President George W. Bush.
In other words, the party that presided over a decade of catastrophic militarism, that oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth to the US elite in American history, now proposes to reduce the debt that its policies helped cause by removing the safety net that protects the poorest and most vulnerable members of American society – and the former community organizer from Chicago is willing to go along with it.
And over here, the government is doing exactly the same thing, with tacit support from the ‘progressive’ opposition, which has already refused to make any commitment to reverse Coalition cuts.
All this might seem unjust and unfair to those who believe in such quaint, old-fashioned concepts as fairness and justice. But then, as Herman Goring once observed, ‘ Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat.’
And that, unfortunately, remains the essential principle of the political class on both sides of the Atlantic.