Calling the government’s spending wasteful, as Labour has, merely plays into the hands of the right
It’s 33 years since Margaret Thatcher inaugurated the modern rightwing Eurosceptic movement, declaring in Bruges that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level”. Given the Brexit cause was so inextricably tied with deregulation, tax cuts and a retreat from public spending, there is something of an irony that, less than two years since our withdrawal from the EU, British companies find themselves tied up with red tape at our borders, average taxes have reached their highest levels since the 1950s, and the size of the state has been brought to levels “not seen in normal times” since the early Thatcherite era, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Some commentators have even declared the contents of Rishi Sunak’s red box to be a “Labour budget”, while ITV’s Robert Peston labels Boris Johnson “an arch-Keynesian”. Such an analysis belies a common misconception: that a leftwing approach to the economy is defined by statism, and that an enlarged state is incompatible with the Tory creed. This fundamentally misunderstands the real ideological battleground, which is over whose interests the state serves rather than its absolute size.
Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist