Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cameron's folly

So David Cameron has finally realised that tying the Tories to Labour spending plans wasn't such a good idea after all. We did try to tell you, Dave.

He's now put himself in an impossible situation. By agreeing to the spending plans of Labour, Cameron effectively acknowledged the Labour proposition that it was impossible to cut spending without it effecting essential services. The usual charge is that if you cut public spending it means fewer schools and hospitals, less nurses, more children per class, fewer books, lower standards etc.

This is, of course, patently rubbish. There is plenty of scope for cutting public spending without getting anywhere near essential services - many of which, such as rubbish collection, are already being cut anyway - but because Cameron didn't have the nerve to stand up to those charges he now finds himself in a position of having to backtrack leaving himself totally exposed to them.

Everyone knows that Labour has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the public sector. Most of us realise, also, that this was done not to provide "essential services", but to shore up its declining voter base which had been shattered by the demise of nationalised industries. Hundreds of thousands of former Labour voters from those industries had gone on to work in the private sector and were now being influenced by conservative ideals rather than socialist ones - they had to be replaced.

That was the whole point of the expansion of public sector employment and immigration - improve Labours voter base. The fact that it meant they could claim x number of new jobs had been created as well was a useful by-product of that, but it was never the reason behind the thinking.

Cameron missed the chance because he thought he could keep everyone onside by pandering to the public sector while retaining the support of traditional, private sector, conservatives. If the economic slump had not hit home he may have pulled it off, but most of us realised that the economic bubble was going to burst eventually - it was always unsustainable.

I've already pointed out a way in which Cameron could make substantial cuts in public spending quickly and easily. Quangos swallow up some £150 billion of public funds every year. All he needs to do to free up some £30 billion of public funds is order a 20% cut in quango funding - and you can do this without any need for a review of quangos and without any need to close any down (you can do that at a later date).

You just tell every quango that their funds for next year will be 20% lower - how they deal with that is up to them, but that 20% cut is not negotiable. So a quango which receives £1,000,000 in funding now has to make do with £800,000 - is that too unreasonable? It might mean they'll have to lose a couple of non-executive directors (former MPs most likely) or they might have to make do with an office in Watford rather than Kensington, but I'm sure they'd manage. What is more, 99.999999% of the population wouldn't notice the difference

It's what they do in the private sector. They also carry out reviews to see what areas can be cut completely - thus saving more money - but the initial move is almost always a simple percentage cut in budgets and it is something which Cameron should have been anticipating and prepared for. His blind acceptance of the Labour myth that cuts in public spending means cuts to essential services was his biggest folly.

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