Tuesday 22 September 2009

Savage cuts - and even worse in store?

So, electors of Britain, how would you like your spending cuts? Bold, savage or draconian? What, you were hoping for the usual pre-election promises of more cash for schools ‘n’ hospitals, the faint hope of a high speed rail link in your lifetime, and the even dimmer one of a dual carriageway A1?

Forget it. It isn’t going to happen. Not at the coming election anyway.

No, it looks like your only choice is going to be deciding which party would do the best job of wielding the axe. Which, as Paul Linford was suggesting on Saturday, should hand an advantage to the Tories because they have a reputation for that sort of thing.

An unjustified reputation, as it happens, since Mrs Thatcher actually presided over an increase in the proportion of GDP absorbed by the British State, and record increases in health and welfare spending. But at least we all knew that, in her heart, she wanted to rein things back. That surely needs to be the default setting of anyone aspiring to govern the country. We have tried the alternative of the surprisingly open-handed Scotsman who wanted to spray our cash around like a drunk with a fire extinguisher at a crazy foam party, and we have seen precisely where that got us. In the proverbial, in case you had not noticed.

I can think of no better illustration of the madness of the current regime than the fact that yesterday I sent off the £250 voucher graciously sent to me to open a Child Trust Fund account. Apparently if the little fellow makes it to his seventh birthday they will send me the same again. Only they won’t, with any luck, because it will be one of the egregious wastes of public money that whoever wins the next election will abolish. Along with my £20 per week child benefit and the tax credits paid to couples living on what sound like perfectly comfortable incomes to me.

The Government needs to recognise that most of us can look after ourselves, thanks, and want nothing more than to be left alone. In particular, we have no desire to fork out yet more in tax to pay for bright sparks to dream up ever more complicated schemes to “help” us, which require thick, glossy brochures and well-staffed call centres to explain what on earth they are about.

We can also do without all their efforts to protect us from miniscule risks of harm through their ever-expanding web of databases, surveillance and checks.

I would pledge my vote today to anyone who guaranteed that they would scrap ID cards, the NHS IT scheme and the 2012 Olympics, withdraw from Afghanistan, allow a free and unbiased vote on our continued membership of the European Union, and focus welfare spending on those in genuine need. So, sadly, there is not going to be any candidate in 2010 that I really want to vote for, and many more of us are going to be in the same boat. Thus turnout continues to diminish and politicians keep wringing their hands wondering where they are going wrong.

And why 2010, incidentally? Why not now? According to the conspiracy theorists, because Lord Mandelson is on a mission to prop up Gordon Brown until the Irish have been brow-beaten into rethinking their opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, the new European Constitution is enacted and Tony Blair installed as President, calculating that “Dave” Cameron will lack the bottle to give the British people a referendum on the subject when he is faced with this fait accompli.

I am not normally a believer in conspiracy theories, but this one seems more plausible than most. Could all the talk of vicious spending cuts and tax increases simply be a ploy by the political class to take our minds off something even worse?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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