Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's time to make bold proposals to cut public spending

After a three month break, and given the severity of the current financial crisis, I thought it apt to write a post.

You might not know it, but it's actually the middle of Conservative Party Conference - the headlines this week were supposed to be made by Osborne and Cameron. The proposed freeze on council tax (the council tax 'rabbit' as many refer to it) should be broadly welcomed, as should many other attractive and sensible measure which will be lost in the hailstorm of the current financial turmoil.


As financial markets enter uncharted territory after Congress voted against the White House's $700bn bailout plan, the Tories don't seem to have a persuasive narrative. What would the Conservative Party do to help get Britain through this mess? The simple answer is: they don't know. Having said that, neither do Labour.

I was extremely cross with Nick Robinson this morning for suggesting that Labour are somehow leading the way in this crisis. The Prime Minister should have persuaded no-one that he's the best option to lead us out of this mess, of which he is a prime architect. He's doing nothing more than providing vapid statements to the media; vague comments about 'maintaining stability', and 'getting Britain through'. The fact remains that there is little or no stability to be maintained; and, if he thinks that 'Britain getting through' the crisis is something to boast about being able to do, it shows he has absolutely nothing to offer the country.

So what do the Tories do now? The polls have obviously shown a narrowing in recent days - Labour's bounce has been shown by all but one pollster - ComRes. This is despite headlines in The Independent alluding to the opposite - this has been caused by drawing comparisons between previous editions of newspaper-specific polls, which is misleading: ComRes carried out a survey for the Independent on Sunday only ten days ago, before the Labour conference and THAT speech. Compare the previous ComRes survey with the current one and the differences are as follows:

Con 41 +2
Lab 29 +2
LD 18 -3

Not really a Labour bounce there... (note the reverse-bounce of the Lib Dems)

Another alarming development is the apparent willingness of the media to give Brown another chance. They seemed to have grown tired of Cameron's large poll leads, and the Conservative Party's leading of the policy debate. Despite everything, despite all of the various idiotic incompetences over the past year, Brown will, to some extent, be let off the hook if current conditions persist.

This is why it has to be time for a fightback. A proper one. If the cupboard is bare, fill it up again - not with tax rises, but with revenues from spending cuts. I am confident that the Conservatives' 'waste' narrative is well entrenched with the general public. There will still be a considerable minority against public spending cuts no matter what, but this view is completely impractical in the current climate. We need to show that we're on the side of voters, so let's be bold in our commitments - a reduction of at least £20bn, cutting waste, freezing public sector recruitment, and removing costly managerial layers in the health service which diminish the quality of the service provided to patients. It is a proposal which Labour cannot copy. They believe in the all-powerful state. We do not, and we must never believe they have won the argument.