The effect of the ‘savage’ cuts as Nick Clegg called them last September are gradually becoming apparent over the course of the week. What both parts of the coalition insist is that these cuts are about deficit reduction and not a deliberate effort to roll back the state. There is a major aspect to these cuts however which are making this very difficult to believe.
If cuts were purely to balance the books, and the economic forecasts of the coalition were correct, there would come a time possibly during a hypothetical second parliament when some of the cuts could be reversed. The labour government realised this when they assured us the 50% top rate of tax was a temporary measure. (Though why they chose this I don’t know).
Let us though look at some of the likely cuts that are unfolding that go against our normal Liberal Democrat principles:- If we lift the cap off of commuter train prices and lower the operational subsidy accordingly, after two or three years of large above inflation fair hikes there will likely be no need for subsidy at all. We will have taken the decision not to subsidize rail to take account of its environmental savings. This would be a dogmatic sea change in transport and environment policy.
There is no provision for reinvesting in Universities when the economy improves. Exorbitant student fees are not being presented as a temporary package. It is in effect government ceasing to be responsible for University education. Leaving i tnearly unsubsidised and subject to the whims of the market place long after the economic situation has improved.
The capping of social security benefits is designed only to save a few hundred million pounds. It will probably save nothing when some large families can’t afford accommodation anywhere and their children are taken into care. From George Osborne’s rhetoric it is clear that this is a symbolic whipping of ‘scroungers’. It is also a piece of long term social engineering which will turn some cheap areas into dumping ghettos. This will also be nearly impossible to reverse.
Likewise once a programme of nuclear power stations has been begun. It will be nearly impossible to justify projects such as the Severn barrier in the future as likely capacity will have already been built.
The only policy with a truly temporary feel to it is the DEFFERAL of a decision on Trident. No it is not being abolished merely deferred.
Trident still has a higher priority to the coalition than housing the poor, transporting workers at a reasonable price, and stopping the young generation drowning in Student Debt. (This is all the more ironic as one of the main arguments for cuts was to make sure that young people did not suffer with debt in the future).
I have no doubt that most in our party are making these cuts with gritted teeth but this style of irreversalable cuts indicates that there are some in our party who are quite happy changing our whole policy agenda.
This leaves me sadly doubting whether the Liberal Democrats will have much of its current policy to salvage, whatever the result of the next election? Will for simply practical reasons our own policy simply have to fall in line with that of the coalition , and if so what is our long term purpose ?