Opinion: Enter the storm with our eyes wide open

I’m excited about the coalition. I think it’s necessary, and I think it’s what the voters want. But it’s going to hurt.

When the coalition was announced, my heart was in my mouth. I was mentally prepared for the defection of hundreds of councillors. So far, we’ve come through remarkably unscathed. But it’s only the first stage.

June will see £6 billion of cuts and an emergency budget. We’ll survive that, but a much bigger test comes this autumn: the announcement of a programme of cuts that’ll make six billion seem like pocket change.

David Laws will try to ease the pain, but they’ll hurt. Hurt like a root canel without anesthetic. And the pain will last for years.

With pain will come opprobrium. Poll ratings through the floor. And this time the calls of “traitor” won’t be from Labour trolls, but from people in genuine despair: from those who have lost their jobs, those whose elderly parents are losing the support they thought their birthright.

We’ll say it was unavoidable, the consequence of a terrible international crisis, of a Labour government that spent as if the boom would never end. But people in pain won’t hear our words, they’ll just see politicians cutting the care they desperately need.

Many in the public understand the need for tough decisions. Will they stick with us through our mid-term? I fear not. In their heart of hearts, they’ll know we are right. But when those you care about are hurting, it’s hard to support the surgeon who wields the knife.

We’ll be hurting too. Those of us who have been councillors know the bitter taste of making cuts, but only the taste. We’ve never had to cut on this scale, and there’s always been a government to blame.

As we watch our poll rating collapse, see our councillors decimated, we’ll start to wonder. Will this mid-term unpopularity end? Was it worthwhile?

There’ll be serious problems in the party. Accusations that it’s easy for a parliamentary party whose jobs are assured for a five year term. Easy for ministers with grace and favour homes and ministerial limousines. There will be defections and resignations, hostile motions and bitter arguments at party conference.

Many are heartily sick of the phrase, ‘in the national interest’. They think all politicians are driven by personal and party advantage. But I am an idealist, and I think most of us are.

This is a national crisis. If we make the wrong decisions now, it could blight our country for decades. Labour has left the nation with a choice: to take the path of Greece, ignore the problem for a few years, then risk social collapse when forced to concentrate five years pain into a single budget. Or to take severe action now, while we are still able to temper the pain for the weakest in our society.

I’m proud of my party. We’ve not abdicated respsonsibility for tough decisions to others. Amidst all the strange realities of coalition government, we do have a sense of what is to come. We have doubts about how we’ll do in the election in five years time, but we know it’s the right thing to do.

I think we’ll keep our nerve, but it’ll help if we’re mentally prepared. If we’re sure we went into this with eyes wide open.

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56 Comments

  • The assumption seems to be that if the medicine tastes nasty, then it must be doing you good. This sounds suspiciously like dogma and ideology.

    Just because a deficit is £X billion, it does not follow that we must reduce it to zero in a specific time period.

    In truth, we are squeezed between two pincers. On the one hand, if we don’t take enough action to satisfy the sentiments of bankers and markets, we shall suffer with higher borowing costs and depreciation of sterling. On the other hand, if we put lots of people out of work, we shall cause a depression and reduce tax revenues, thus not even succeeding in cutting the deficit. (And it really matters not a jot, in economic terms, whether that work was vital public service or pen-pushing waste, it only matters that the workers got paid and spent their wages on goods).

    What we need, in this situation, is pragmatism. The ability to look at what the market is actually doing, worry about doing either too much or too little, and steer course accordingly. We don’t need ideology. We don’t need economic masochism!

  • Big government spending cuts are going to be like emergency surgery without anaesthetic. They are going to hurt a lot and the patient will kick and struggle to stop you from inflicting the pain. The hope is that when the pain has gone and the patient sees that their injury has been healed, they’ll thank the surgeon. Perhaps that’s why the coalition has agreed a 5 year fixed term parliament. An election mid cuts would be suicide.

  • David Allen 24th May '10 - 1:04pm

    Sure, Labour were too scared to go and see the doctor about that lump. People understand that. They will support us if we avoid making the same mistake. They won’t support us if we carry on and bleed the economy to death with leeches, or swallow medicinal strychnine prescribed by quack doctor Gideon!

  • Andrea Gill 24th May '10 - 1:12pm

    @Geoffrey – They hadn’t seen the full figures at that point though

  • This is the one coalition issue that is really going to hurt the Lib Dems, and the reason I opposed it. You’re now going to be associated with huge cuts you spent the election campaigning against, and which, crucially, you could have helped hinder or postpone had you stayed in opposition.

    I think you’ve screwed yourself for a generation on this one, I really do.

  • @Geoffrey

    That was before they found the note telling them there was no money left, lol

  • Andrew Suffield 24th May '10 - 1:37pm

    (And it really matters not a jot, in economic terms, whether that work was vital public service or pen-pushing waste, it only matters that the workers got paid and spent their wages on goods)

    If you cut vital public service then there are additional secondary effects, because all the economic functions which were enabled by those services then collapse. If it was just stupid bureaucracy, then the damage is more contained.

    Note that in the current situation, having wasteful bureaucracy means that the UK, as a nation, is taking out a loan in order to pay money to those “workers” for doing nothing useful. While it is true that pumping money into the economy from loans can help, this is pretty close to the least efficient way of doing so. What you really want to do is use that money to build more enabling infrastructure and services, which generate vastly more jobs from new industry than it could ever have done paying people to count paperclips.

    How can we argue that people on the minimum wage should not pay income tax, only to put up VAT?

    People who are on the minimum wage should be spending most of that money on essentials, which are already mostly VAT-free.

    VAT can be put up if it is targetted on luxury products

    Anything which has VAT applied to it is defined to be a luxury product. Now, there are some disputes over what things should be classified as luxuries, and some legitimacy to extending the range here.

  • I find it increasingly hard to believe that I could be in the same political party as David Laws. I fear he has found his real home. We’ve all criticised the smoke and mirrors of the Brown era and the marginalisation of Parliament. I expected, with some confidence that we would do things differently. But today we took part in a major economic announcement made not to MPs but to the media and the spin was as ferocious as anything A Campbell could muster. We heard all economic woes blamed on the last Govt, false connections made with other economies and almost every areas to cut described as ‘waste’. When we make major economic decisions the public need to be given a clear and honest rationale. So we may disagree with the Child Trust Fund or the Future Jobs Fund but that does not mean they are waste or do not work. On the contrary there evidence that suggests that both may do so in removing them arguments need to evidence based and sound. These felt rushed and political – just the types of things we would have been quick to condemn in an incoming Conservative Government.

    My faith is dented but I will wait until the Budget and hope that we have not jettisoned the new politics we promised for so long before deciding whether to stay in the party.

  • Geoffrey,
    You’re helping to push through the very same £6billion in extra cuts you spent the whole campaign arguing would be disasterous for the economy. There’s no way the “it’s hard to know when best to make cuts” line is going to fly.

    It might be “unfair” to blame you for the underlying need for those cuts, but I doubt the millions directly or indirectly affected will be much inclined to worry about fairness when they next vote.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th May '10 - 2:27pm

    It might be “unfair” to blame you for the underlying need for those cuts, but I doubt the millions directly or indirectly affected will be much inclined to worry about fairness when they next vote.

    Oh look, the bogeyman of voter memory. Voters don’t remember anything that happened more than six months ago. They’re notoriously fickle that way. Look at the election we just had – even the expenses scandal was basically ignored.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 24th May '10 - 2:45pm

    “They hadn’t seen the full figures at that point though”

    Irrelevant. They hadn’t seen the full figures when they signed the coalition agreement.

  • Colin Green 24th May '10 - 3:05pm

    Joe Otten

    “It is hard to see why people are getting so excited over the timing and extent of cuts”

    I tend to agree. £6bn off the £156bn deficit this year is less than half of one percent, or put another way, about £100 per year for every person in the country. It hardly matters whether we do it now or later. The real substance of the cuts is what will make the big impact.

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 4:03pm

    £6 nine noughts is nothing. The next problem is the £16 ten noughts. The problem after that is with the £9 eleven noughts. The problem after that is everything off book, including unfunded pensions, et cetera, £1 twelve noughts, or so. Anyone who thinks this cost cutting is unnecessary or excessive is stark staring mad. Anyone who thinks this isn’t going to hurt really, really badly, including severe pain for themselves, is in denial. It cannot be blamed solely on the previous government, but, nevertheless the greatest part of the blame resides there. A fiscal policy of cake now, and extract your teeth for the gold, later, is one that must never be repeated. This problem is far too great to even consider for a moment turning away from the path to be taken, even if it should do enormous damage to our beloved Liberal Democrat party in the short term.

    I would argue that this is a good illustration of the need for a written constitution, which amongst other things could bind future governments into rational fiscal policies.

  • Perhaps no one would be getting excited about it if you hadn’t spent the entire campaign claiming it was a terrible idea.

  • George Kendall 24th May '10 - 4:09pm
  • George Kendall 24th May '10 - 4:11pm

    Apologies for failing to close that link.

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 4:51pm

    @George Kendall 24th May 2010 at 4:09 pm

    “@Paul McKeown
    Completely agree. Very well put.”

    I would go further. If I could advise David Laws, I would say to him to give himself free rein. One might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Every penny of government spending which helps bind the middle classes into state largesse should be examined with considerable prejudice. All I ask is that the weakest in society, pensioners, children, the disabled, the deserving poor and the unemployed should be treated with generosity. Everyone else must bear the pain, the broader the shoulders the heavier the lashing that must be endured. Laws must never forget Vince Cable’s description of bankers behaving as pin-stripe Scargills, the same description can, of course, be applied to all manner of people with considerable liquid wealth; their special pleading to the Tories must fall on deaf ears.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 24th May '10 - 5:23pm

    “Anyone who thinks this cost cutting is unnecessary or excessive is stark staring mad.”

    But the party said during the election campaign that it was not only unnecessary, but would run the risk of pushing the country back into recession!

  • David Allen 24th May '10 - 5:24pm

    “Anyone who thinks this isn’t going to hurt really, really badly, including severe pain for themselves, is in denial. … This problem is far too great to even consider for a moment turning away from the path to be taken, even if it should do enormous damage…”

    Sorry, but this is just intoxicated with apocalyptic rhetoric. It reads like Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Note the appeal to abandon normal critical reasoning faculties which is inherent in the phrase “to even consider for a moment”.

    “It was the right thing for us to do.”

    That’s a Blairism, and it means “everyone stop thinking, I have made up my mind and I know I’m always right.”

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 5:30pm

    @Anthony Aloysius St.

    What you say is true, but I suspect that Clegg didn’t believe it himself. It was just a bit of Lib Demery, painting ourselves as the reasonable lot, somewhere in between the excesses of red and blue. And therefore unworthy. It was clear that Alistair Darling, George Osborne and David Laws all wanted to unleash the dogs of fiscal rectitude, but all three were silenced for fearing of scaring the voters. I suspect the voters saw through it all, although £0.9 trillion of on-book debt and much larger amounts of book is enough to scare most voters out of their wits, it certainly gives me the heebie jeebies.

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 5:32pm

    @David Allen

    If the language is intoxicated, what sober language should be used in its stead?

  • Andrea Gill 24th May '10 - 5:33pm

    @Anthony “But the party said during the election campaign that it was not only unnecessary, but would run the risk of pushing the country back into recession!”

    One of our bullet points in the 4 main cornerstones of our manifesto was “Honesty about the tough choices needed to cut the deficit!”

    An extract of the more detailed deficit approach says “We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma. Our working assumption is that the economy will be in a stable enough condition to bear cuts from the beginning of 2011–12.”

    It was a working assumption on the basis of the conditions at the time, this was before Greece and the overall Eurozone crisis. Most importantly, it was written BEFORE WE HAD ACCESS TO THE FULL DATA on the nation’s finances…

  • David Allen 24th May '10 - 5:39pm

    “It is hard to see why people are getting so excited over the timing and extent of cuts, which has always been a subject of relatively tiny difference between the three parties.”

    This is partly fair comment. Cable did acknowledge that cuts could not be delayed indefinitely. He had been saying that for some while. It was of course a stance that was bound to approach its sell-by date sooner or later. To accede to the Tory request that a first and relatively moderate tranche of cuts should start now was, I think, not an excessive concession to make. Who knows, the judgment as to the precise timing might turn out either right or wrong. What matters is where we go after that, and whether we are pragmatic enough to watch what the real economy is doing, and rein in the cuts if it makes sense to do so.

    I think that what people could sense, behind the formal statements from the parties, were the differences in approach which would have led to greater divergences in the longer term. Brown stood for denialism, fudge, and a Greek determination to carry on partying while the ship sails toward the rocks. Darling and Cable, at election time, stood for realism – as did Ken Clarke. Osborne stood for scourging and flagellation. This party has no business encouraging the economic mad axemen of the apocalypse!

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 5:45pm

    @David Allen

    I think I can find myself with your last comment, although I would urge that state spending should be reduced as far as possible as quickly as possible, concomitant with protecting the vulnerable and not driving the economy into recession. I’m pretty sure this £6 billion will have little impact one way or another, its simply peanuts on chickenfeed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th May '10 - 6:00pm

    The fact that the coalition did not lead to a mass defection of Liberal Democrats illustrates that we are much more hard-nosed realists than our opponents in the press (i.e. 90% of the press) suppose. The press just don’t get it that our party works by “survival of the fittest”. We are not full of sleepy idealists and out-of-this world dreamers, as the press would suppose, precisely because where we were, we died out. We exist where we have survived, and that is through knowing what works practically to win the vote, and in most places to hold it when making the difficult decisions that have to be made in local government.

  • John Emerson 24th May '10 - 7:07pm

    “I’m pretty sure this £6 billion will have little impact one way or another, its simply peanuts on chickenfeed.”

    Most likely true, although are you willing to bet the economy on it? :). More seriously in the medium term we are almost certainly going to have to raise taxes, and if we are sensible cut NHS spending (it makes up too much of public spending to leave alone). Of course the Tories pledged not to. Which should be interesting, are the Tories going to be serious (and break their word) or keep their word (and be logically incoherent)?

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '10 - 8:01pm

    “People who are on the minimum wage should be spending most of that money on essentials, which are already mostly VAT-free.”

    Are you seriously saying that VAT is not a regressive tax?

    “Anything which has VAT applied to it is defined to be a luxury product.”

    What, like… clothes? Power? Sanitary products? The economy may be in a hole but things aren’t quite THAT bad.

  • George Kendall 24th May '10 - 8:06pm

    @David Allen
    I wrote the article with dramatic language not because we should cut without thinking, but because we need to think more about the consequences of the coming cuts.

    You ask “whether we are pragmatic enough to watch what the real economy is doing, and rein in the cuts if it makes sense to do so”. That’s a very good question. Frankly, there are no good choices, and, however good our forecasting, we’ll never be confident of the right balance between protecting the fragile recovery and cutting back the deficit.

    There is a risk that we could become prisoners of our own rhetoric, and find it impossible to rein back when we need to. So, perhaps it’s a good thing Clegg is more circumspect in his language.

    But there is an opposite risk. There is an air of unreality about this crisis. Many, including Lib Dem activisits, are on tracker mortgages, with secure incomes, and haven’t felt any real pain yet. Some seem to think it’s been hyped by excitable journalists.

    But they are wrong. One way or the other, the cost of this is going to be dramatic. Even if pragmatism means we hold back on some of the cuts, those cuts that remain will still be savage.

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '10 - 8:32pm

    @ Andrea – this “the finances are worse than we thought” defence really doesn’t impress.

    For one thing, as you know full well, the Lib Dems signed up to the Tories’ £6bn cuts plan BEFORE they came to power, and hence BEFORE they saw the books.

    Even if they had known about “the books” (and we have been given no figures as to how much worse they supposedly are), £6bn is a tiny fraction of the deficit and it would make very little difference IN TERMS OF THE DEBT to make those cuts next year rather than now. The point – and remember that we critics are relying heavily on Cable’s supposedly peerless analysis – is that although £6bn may be a drop in the ocean in terms of the debt, it could well be a very significant amount in terms of the economic recovery, which is a very different thing.

    A respectable position for Lib Dems at the moment would be along the lines of: “I think we were right to say that £6bn of cuts now will damage the recovery, but unfortunately we are in a coalition, there have to be compromises, and this is one of the things where we had to let the Tories have their way. Let’s just hope we’re wrong and it turns out OK.” That’s exactly what I’d be saying if I were a Lib Dem.

    To pretend that you all woke up on May 12th realising that Osborne had been right all along, and Cable wrong, simply turns you into a laughing stock.

  • Andrea Gill 24th May '10 - 9:01pm

    @Stuart – OK good point, however I do believe that at least Laws was for earlier cuts anyway, he knows the financial market and understands the need to send the right signals, and one thing that was always in our manifesto was openness about drastic cuts needed in spending. I do also suspect Cable at least was convinced on the basis of seeing the actual data.

    And don’t forget as the junior partner in a coalition getting a half billion re investment was pretty good.

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 9:23pm

    @Stuart

    Why worry? The next election is 5 years away, by which time whatever nonsense we came out with in our last manifesto will have been well forgotten. This hair splitting angels on a pin stuff is just providing material for others to attack us with. I think our best answer to £6 billion now or later is simply, shrug, who cares. Whoever formed the government was going to have to get real about the finances, rather than trying to nuance who the opposition were saying.

  • “although £6bn may be a drop in the ocean in terms of the debt, it could well be a very significant amount in terms of the economic recovery, which is a very different thing.”

    Okay, the fact that £6bn is tiny compared to the rest of the debt but still enough to harm the economy, shows just how bloody serious the debt problem is. Which means, unless we get to grips with it now, it’s just going to get worse and worse.

    I do agree with you that the Lib Dems, rather than pretend they’ve been converted, should play the “we’re in a coalition and we’ve had to make compromises” – that might well be the truth, and if it is true then the principled thing would be to say the truth.

    However, politically, do you not see how bad it would look for them to say that? “We disagree with this, think it’s shit, we said so just a few weeks ago, but our hands are tied so fuck you” They would be eviscerated in the media. And the outcome would be the same.

    So your policy would destroy the Lib Dems and not change the outcome at all.

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '10 - 10:58pm

    @blanco: “the fact that £6bn is tiny compared to the rest of the debt… shows just how bloody serious the debt problem is.”

    Yes, and no. The debt has ballooned alarmingly and needs to be brought under control. But having said that, in the current hysteria there are very few people making any effort to put the debt into perspective.

    £6bn has actually been a small proportion of the UK national debt for many, many decades. In fact, our current debt is not THAT high when you look at it historically. For a good half of the 20th century, the debt was higher than it is now, in some cases MUCH higher. Admittedly, this was largely due to the two world wars, but bear in mind that we’re currently going through a major international crisis of our own, albeit of a very different nature.

    The other important point is that our debt is lower (again, in some cases MUCH lower) than many of our competitors around the world. Japan, Italy, Belgium, Iceland, France, Germany, Canada, the USA – these are just some of the countries with higher debt levels than us. You don’t need a Gordon Brown to rack up huge amounts of debt (though it probably helps).

    So the situation is indeed serious, I am not trying to deny that, but you know what? Compared to much of our recent history, and compared to similar countries around the world, WE’RE ACTUALLY NOT DOING THAT BAD. Not a fashionable thing to be saying this week, but then I’ve never been fashionable.

    (All comparisons based on national debt as % of GDP.)

    As for your point about the Lib Dems being scared to speak their minds – I agree entirely, and it’s sad. I can’t believe this situation will persist for long, once real differences become impossible to gloss over.

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '10 - 11:06pm

    @Andrea – absolutely, and I’ve been saying from the start that the Lib Dems pulled off a negotiating triumph with the coalition agreement. It may not be quite as good as some Lib Dems think (all those “reviews” don’t bode well to my suspicious mind), but it’s a brilliant result nonetheless. I voted Labour but I am genuinely delighted that we have a Lib Dem-influenced government rather than a majority Tory one.

    I just hope you guys can retain your independence and individuality over the next five years, but to be frank, I’m worried with the way things are going. Somebody needs to get a grip on the situation and tell Nick Clegg that the public can see him morphing into Cameron before their very eyes.

  • George Kendall – Thank you! You have just explained with great eloquence why it was lunacy to enter into this Frankenstein arrangement with the Tory government. We will get blamed for everything Cameron and Osborne do, and Labour will benefit. Nick Clegg is Lee Harvey Oswald to Cameron’s J Edgar Hoover. When he is no longer needed he’ll be scrunched up and tossed into the gutter. Messrs Cable and Webb – turn back before you reach the iceberg.

  • The un-ringfencing of LA funds is likely to result in councils raiding the Housing Revenue Account to avoid wholesale redundancies. This will make it more difficult for LHAs to pay off their long-term house-building debts, which they will have to do if they are to recover their ability to set their own rents. Did I use that phrase, “long-term debts”? Yes, LAs are still paying for houses that were built in the 1930s. Which puts the Tory rush to reduce the deficit into perspective.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 24th May '10 - 11:48pm

    Andrea

    “It was a working assumption on the basis of the conditions at the time, this was before Greece and the overall Eurozone crisis. Most importantly, it was written BEFORE WE HAD ACCESS TO THE FULL DATA on the nation’s finances…”

    As has already been pointed out a number of times, the policy had been reversed _before_ the party had access to what you call “THE FULL DATA”. And as for the idea that the behaviour of the markets on a single day (Friday 7 May) could reverse the whole thrust of the party’s differentiation from the Tories, it’s too ridiculous to consider.

    Quite obviously the policy was dropped as part of the negotiation of a joint policy platform with the Tories. It’s depressing enough that Clegg doesn’t have the honesty to admit that – instead feeding us the ridiculous “nobody could have foreseen” line. But do his Internet apologists really have to make themselves appear just as ridiculous by denying the obvious? Apparently they do.

  • Paul McKeown 25th May '10 - 12:25am

    @Anthony Aloysius St.
    “But do his Internet apologists really have to make themselves appear just as ridiculous by denying the obvious? Apparently they do.”

    Actually I could care less. It really for me is irrelevant, no, the sooner the better. Sorting out the deficit is such an enormous priority, that I never, ever believed for a second any blather about delaying action.

  • “Somebody needs to get a grip on the situation and tell Nick Clegg that the public can see him morphing into Cameron before their very eyes.”

    Some bore named David Allen has been posting to that effect on this site for rather a long time. It was always clear that a Tory – Lib Dem alliance was Clegg’s dream result. What I didn’t foresee was that it would also prove to be Cameron’s dream result, or that the personal chemistry of their match would lead to such a strong partnership.

    Those of us who don’t fully share that dream – a majority I think – need to understand its basis. “The devil has all the best tunes”, they say. Yes, and we should know why. The devil always makes an exceptionally generous offer. But that is because he wants your soul in exchange.

    Cameron’s offer to Clegg was as generous and comprehensive as it seemed. And it did include a commitment to take on board a lot of Lib Dem policies, and not just give a few Lib Dems prestigious jobs. But there was a reason for the generosity. Cameron wants the partnership to be permanent, beyond 2015, and probably leading to a merger of the parties. Clegg, I suspect, wants the same. If it happens, the Tory party will genuinely be changed for the better, and it will take our ideas on board. But we will disappear.

    If we disappear, we will leave progressive politics in the tender hands of Labour, who now seem to be regressing into a narrow working-class party who will blame the immigrant, and the Greens, a party with noble ideals and no practical ability to implement them. I don’t want that to happen.

    If we don’t want that to happen, then we shall have to set up a counter position to Clegg and Laws. That we believe in the deal, we will try to make it work well, but, one parliament is enough. We won’t want to renew the deal after 2015, we need to be separate, we will keep our independence!

  • Paul McKeown 25th May '10 - 12:50am

    @David Allen

    Your crystal ball seems to have gone all hysterical. Can’t you leave predictions about 2015 until we’re at least half-way into 2014? Oh, and btw, the Greens are not noble at all, they are, in fact, incredibly authoritarian. If you want real Greens, vote Lib Dem.

  • Paul McKeown 25th May '10 - 12:53am

    @David Allen

    Strangely enough you get similar comments on Conservative Home about what a Liberal traitor David Cameron is. There’s a pretty clear gulf between them on many fundamental issues. Clegg has written loads, why not read it and find out what he says, before putting words into his mouth.

  • Paul McKeown 25th May '10 - 1:10am

    Let me reproduce a short summary from the Independent:
    “UK DEBT AT A GLANCE
    *Public sector net debt today: £893.4bn
    *Forecast public spending deficit for 2010-11: £157bn
    *Forecast public sector net debt for 2014-15: £1,406bn
    *Net spending cuts outlined by George Osborne and David Laws: £5.7bn (after £500m of £6.2bn cuts is reinvested)
    *UK GDP: £1.396trn
    *Public sector net debt as proportion of GDP (2009-10): 54.1 per cent
    *Public sector net debt as proportion of GDP (2014-15; estimate): 74.9 per cent”

    Anyone who thinks that these cuts represent anything but window-dressing is in denial. Anyone who thinks that Labour or any other cuddly party would or could do anything else is gullible or wilfully in denial. Anyone from Labour who says they wouldn’t make cuts of the same magnitude or greater is simply a liar, a utopian fool or uninformed.

  • am i the only one to shiver when david laws pronounces – he loves his job – liberal democrats may never again have power – enjoy while you can

  • Anthony Aloysius St 25th May '10 - 8:06am

    “Public sector net debt as proportion of GDP (2009-10): 54.1 per cent”

    Just to keep things in proportion, here are comparative figures for the G7 countries, from a handy list on Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt

    Japan 192.10%
    Italy 115.20%
    France 79.70%
    Germany 77.20%
    Canada 72.30%
    United Kingdom 68.50%
    United States 52.90%

  • George Kendall 25th May '10 - 11:29am

    @Anthony

    You’re right. In comparison to other countries, our debt isn’t that high. But it’s not our debt that is worrying, it’s our deficit. A country can carry a heavy debt, as long as the debt isn’t rising too fast.

    When we went into this crisis, our debt wasn’t that high. But, because we were so reliant on financial services for tax revenue, when the financial crisis hit, our deficit rose dramatically.

    What worries our creditors is not our debt, but the rate our debt is rising. At present, for every four pounds the government is spending, we are borrowing approximately one pound.

    So, to put your table into perspective, here’s the estimated deficit levels for 2009, as a percentage of GDP, with the debt levels from your table in brtackets)

    United Kingdom 14.20% (68.50%)
    United States 11.92% (52.90%)
    France 8.20% (79.70%)
    Japan 7.59% (192.10%)
    Italy 5.16% (115.20%)
    Germany 4.39% (77.20%)
    Canada 2.48% (72.30%)

    My figures came from http://www.photius.com/rankings/economy/budget_deficit_pct_of_gdp_2010_0.html. They reference CIA World Factbook 2010.
    I believe the statistics for the UK have been revised down, to about 11 or 12%, but these statistics are always estimates.

    But it’s not the prospects for the British economy that worries me. All political parties knew the deficit was unsustainable. In the last election, all parties announced plans for massive cuts. For example, Labour were planning cuts of £50.85bn. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8646612.stm

    What is worrying is the dramatic pain these cuts will cause, and that so many people just don’t seem to realise this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th May '10 - 10:56pm

    Once the scale of cuts needed becomes apparanet, I hope it can be put more clearly that the pain should be shared out in a way that those who can most afford it take the most of it. We must show up the whingers who complain about tax on capital gains or inheritance and such thinghs for who they really are – people who can afford to take the pain off others for whom cuts in services really will hurt, but prefer instead dollops of cash for themselves which they did nothing to earn.

    We need a real feeling in this country that we are all in this together. That should mean some City trader who threatens to run off to Switzerland or wherever because he is asked to pay higher tax that would still leave him in a life of luxury should be treated as we would treat anyone who deserts in a time of crisis.

    If the rich stop whingeing and knuckle down to it, those less wealth off will find it easier to take on suffering due to government service cuts. Some people WILL lose their jobs, then their houses, then their families, through being made redundant through these cuts and being unable to find new employment. When this is happening, anyone who is still in a job and well paid should feel ashamed if they are asked to pay more tax and moan about it and say how unfair it is.

  • The cuts will be good for us. They will sort the wheat from the chaff, as far as our public services are concerned.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 25th May '10 - 11:50pm

    George

    “In the last election, all parties announced plans for massive cuts. For example, Labour were planning cuts of £50.85bn.”

    Well, to be precise, according to the BBC report you cite, the planned cuts were:
    Con: Specified £11.3bn; unspecified £52.4bn; total: £63.7bn
    Lab: Specified £6.7bn; unspecified £44.1bn; total: £50.85.bn
    LD: Specified £12bn; unspecified £34.5bn; total: £46.5.bn

    There’s actually quite a large difference between the total cuts proposed by the Lib Dems and the Tories – though none of the parties had the honesty to say where they would actually make the bulk of the cuts. I wonder if anyone has worked out comparative figures for “the Coalition”, to compare with these.

  • Paul McKeown 26th May '10 - 12:01am

    Matthew!

    Excellent post, my sentiments too. Thanks!

  • The public deficit can be rectified either by expenditure cuts or by tax rises. As George points out, it was the loss of tax revenues from financial services (i.e. bankers stopped earning massive and taxable bonuses) which mainly caused the deficit in the first place. Is it too much to suggest that we pay more attention to restoring these tax revenues, and less to cutting government spending? For example, going back to those rich bankers and in effect, clawing more of those bonuses back?

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