The Old Beards thought it was always a good idea to capitalise on divisions in the class enemy. Since the Dave 'n' Nick love-in was signed and sealed the Daily Telegraph have had it in for the coalition, providing lefties a bit of cheer. They've brought down one of the LibDem's brightest stars over dodgy rent arrangements. And now they're pouring cold water over Dave's programme.
Cameron's speech today promised cuts to public sector pensions, wages, jobs and services. He said these "tough decisions" were unavoidable because Labour had left the state's finances in a much worse state than he feared. Unfortunately for Dave this claim is total piffle, as their erstwhile allies point out.
Edmund Conway notes,
the figures nonetheless look horrible of course ... But if anything the picture has actually improved in recent weeks. For one thing, the latest public finances numbers show that Britain’s deficit last year was actually considerably lower than previously calculated. For another, the interest rate on the average 10-year gilt has actually fallen considerably since the eurozone economic crisis took hold. Both of these factors are reasonably encouraging. They support the argument that one has to provide decent, credible plans to cut the deficit, since in Britain’s case that is precisely what the markets are recognising, by charging the Government a lower rate of interest.He goes on:
So why does Cameron feel it necessary to use scare tactics instead? One presumes it’s because he’s aware of the political difficulty of imposing those cuts. Canada may have done pretty well in cutting its spending, but the process was extremely gruelling. Perhaps Cameron is still haunted by Mervyn King’s reported warning that the austerity that the election-winner would have to impose could make them so unpopular that they would ultimately find themselves ejected from power. But whatever his rationale, he has no excuse for misrepresenting economic reality.While a smooth operator like Cameron cannot be unaware of the likelihood of a backlash, I feel there's more to Dave's rhetoric than covering the Tories' backs.
Like my friend Boffy I think when politicians make pronouncements of a more (political-) philosophical character, they shouldn't be dismissed as cynical rationales of their activities (though they do have the effect of justifying them, to themselves as much as anyone else). Instead politicians' beliefs should be approached as a genuinely held set of ideas, even if they are self-serving, overly ideological and completely barking.
As we know, the Tories' great wheeze is the 'Big Society' - a nebulous concept positioned as a response to New Labour's authoritarianism, the "nanny state", and the "broken society". It emphasises the balancing of rights with responsibilities, preserving time worn institutions, rebuilding social solidarities, and scaling back the influence of the state - all in all pretty standard Conservative philosophy with bolt-on extras (though who could have foreseen the Tories encouraging same-sex civil partnerships?) Since Dave stepped out of the margins of 2005's leadership contest his liberal Toryism hasn't deviated from the Big Society script.
For Dave and co the crisis in public finances is an opportunity for social engineering. He can dress the cuts up how he likes, but in his heart of hearts the slashing and the burning will cleanse society's soul and make it "Big". Taking an axe to the welfare state will force people out of necessity to build ties of mutual support independent of it. Hiving off benefit assessment and provision to private firms can be spun as the state enabling "society" to look after its most vulnerable members. Making life more difficult for JSA claimants is about the hand up, not the hand out.
So don't let the handwringing fool you. The Tory cuts to come have as much to do with their fundamental beliefs as their perception of economic necessity.