Austerity hypocrites have no right to attack Osborne

Protest against George Osborne's cuts

Brendan O'Neill: Liberal thinkers have advocated an age of austerity - so why are they now complaining?

BY Brendan O'Neill LAST UPDATED AT 10:30 ON Thu 21 Oct 2010

Liberal, left-wing and green-leaning commentators are outraged by George Osborne's spending review, claiming it will lower people's living standards and throw thousands on to the dole queue. Which is a bit rich, considering that many of the liberal intelligentsia have been agitating for austerity for years.

Time and again, liberal thinkers have told us that we must learn to live with less "stuff", for the sake of our own sanity and for the good of the people-plagued planet.

So don't be fooled by their crocodile tears today - they laid the cultural foundation stones for this age of hardship.

These austerity hypocrites have short memories. This week, the Guardian's George Monbiot wrote an angry piece about the Tory-led cuts agenda, claiming that it will help the rich and hurt the rest.

"When we stagger out of our shelters to assess the damage, we'll discover that we have emerged into a different world, run for their benefit, not ours", he said.

This is the same Monbiot who wrote a piece in 2007 titled 'Bring on the recession'.

"I hope that the recession now being forecast by some economists materialises", he said, because only a recession could give us "the time we need to prevent runaway climate change".

A recession would hurt poor people, he acknowledged - but that was a price worth paying to halt out-of-control economic growth.

Inspired by Monbiot, in 2008 some deep greens kick-started a campaign called Riot 4 Austerity - which says it all.

Their reactionary demand, dolled up in radical garb, was for a 90 per cent cut in carbon emissions - a move which would have a far more devastating impact on people's daily lives than any of the slashes Osborne has come up with.

In 2008, the Independent's green-tinted columnist Johann Hari called on the government to enforce wartime-style rationing in order to save the planet from almost certain fiery doom.

"Just as the government in the Second World War did not ask people to eat less voluntarily, governments today cannot ask us to burn fewer greenhouse gases voluntarily", said Hari. No, it must "force us all" to live more frugally and sensibly.

Yesterday, the Independent headed its coverage of Osborne's big day 'Axe Wednesday' and carried a cartoon of the Chancellor as Edward Scissorhands, cutting all around him.

Elsewhere in recent years, Oliver James, the lefty psychologist beloved of the liberal press, has diagnosed Britons as suffering from 'Affluenza'.

That is, our desire for "stuff" - nice cars, big houses, fast food - is apparently making us mentally ill and the only solution is to learn to live with less.

In 2008 and 2009 there was unadulterated recession porn in the broadsheet papers, as well-to-do writers said there would be an upside to the downturn: people would become poorer but happier.

Writing in the Times in 2008, the English-Nigerian poet Ben Okri said recession would help us to develop a "new social consciousness", adding: "Material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy".

In the Sunday Times, India Knight wrote: "Aah, what a relief the boom has turned to bust". The recession, she argued, had "an especially sparkling silver lining" - that is, it would force us to be thrifty.

The cultural zeitgeist today says that wealth is bad, frugality is good; abundance is destructive, austerity is eco-friendly; wanting stuff warps us, giving things up is pure.

The new age of austerity is built as much on these liberal prejudices, propagated by the well-off, as it is on Osborne's cutting. · 

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