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Home arrow Political science arrow A Century of Fiscal Squeeze Politics : 100 Years of Austerity, Politics, and Bureaucracy in Britain


Returning to the themes raised in Chapter One, we conclude by trying to place the squeezes of the eventful decade described earlier in terms of the three types of squeeze choices we identified in Chapter One; of the loss, cost, and effort involved in the various squeezes described here; and of the apparent consequences of those squeezes, electoral and other.

Tax and Spending, Depth and Duration, Blame and Control

As noted at the start of this chapter, the near-decade of squeezes described here comprises several of the types we introduced in Chapter One, running from a hard wartime revenue squeeze, through the only case of double hard squeeze in the century considered by this book, to a substantial spending- only squeeze initiated by the Lloyd George coalition and extending over the (mostly short) lives of the three following governments. But none of the squeezes explored in this chapter was of the 'slow-burn' variety that we discussed in Chapter One.

However, when we delved a little further into those various squeezes in this chapter, we noted that the wartime tax squeeze mainly hit those on middle and higher incomes and that the soaring public expenditure that accompanied it consisted wholly of defence spending, while spending on civilian services was severely squeezed, falling by nearly 10 per cent in constant-price terms between FY 1916/17 and FY 1918/19. Similarly, the apparently draconian 'double hard' post-war squeeze between FY 1919/20 and 1921/22 counts as a spending squeeze only because of steep falls in defence spending accompanying demobilization: civilian spending was not squeezed at all over this period. Such observations highlight the importance of going beyond global aggregated numbers to pickup some of the important particularities of each of those squeezes.

When it comes to choices over blame and control, we also noticed variety in the episodes explored in this chapter. One distinctive feature was the suspension of electoral competition among the main political parties accompanied by coalition governments during World War I—a pattern repeated in World War II but not in any of the other episodes that we discuss in this book. Another was the use of business leaders chaired by an ex-minister to look over the whole range of public spending and identify targets for expenditure cuts in the 'Geddes Axe' episode—a pattern only followed in one other episode during the century covered by this book.

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