As far as momentous television appearances go it was hardly Frost/Nixon, but Danny Alexander nonetheless made quite a stir on 29th November’s Newsnight. Our Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed that, post-Autumn Statement, the budget deficit would not be eliminated by 2015, and that further cuts would be required beyond then if this goal was to be achieved. For most of us this was stating the obvious, as well as in keeping with our manifesto policy on the deficit which called for it to reduced at a slower rate than that taken up by the Coalition, at a minimum being halved by 2013-4. Yet for a minority of our party this was instead cause for a backlash against Danny, accusing him of forgetting his roots and even, disgracefully, chundering to the press about how he is a ‘fool’!
What nonsense; a weirdly Liberal Democrat version of Tall Poppy Syndrome. Success is confused with selling out, with some copying their Tory counterparts in cutting off the party’s nose to spite its face. The very reasoning behind entering coalition was, lest we need reminding, that the economic reality left behind by Labour was even worse than had been envisaged, and a steady course of fiscal retrenchment was needed to keep market confidence. And as we exit 2011 with an even grimmer reality, our increasingly distant neighbours struggling with impending Eurogeddon, this reasoning is just as strong if not stronger. We agree that the structural deficit must be eliminated, so the choice becomes either ‘harder, deeper, faster’ cuts now – or more cuts post-2015.
Not for Danny Alexander’s critics, however, who are burying their heads in the sand by rejecting both options. They will only follow the coalition’s plan up to 2015, they say, despite this meaning that the plan is left unfinished. Nearly two years after those fateful 22 days in May, our party spokespeople are still explaining our reasons for signing up to coalition in terms of vital deficit reduction, of sticking to the plan. Our position is thus being undermined by these critics, who do not seem aware that they are threatening the very arguments that we have been making for our entry into national government.
Reality needs to strike home, and strike home soon – we have shares in both the tough decisions and the rewards, implementing cuts but also implementing over two-thirds of our manifesto. The many generations of liberals who fought so hard and so unsuccessfully for a whiff of power would be outraged at the treatment of our beloved ginger rodent!
Ultimately, no-one denies that we will discuss the detail of additional cuts as a party before they enter our 2015 manifesto. We cannot, however, forget our commitment to saving the nation’s finances by removing the structural deficit, even if it takes us beyond 2015 to achieve.