Thursday, 21 October 2010


This has been a truly horrible week. Even those of us as fortunate as me, who are in a comfortable enough position to soak up much of the impact of the cuts, recognise the hardship that this week’s Spending Review will cause and the potential damage to the fabric of British society.

But rather than give another critique of the review (there are enough in circulation already), here instead are a few thoughts that go beyond the graphs, tables, claims and sound bites that have dominated this week’s crushing set of spending cuts.

• Every now and again I wonder ‘Are such deep cuts really necessary?’ And then something strikes me to hammer home that they are, such as the fact that the government has had to borrow an extra £400 million every day since May, because for every £300 coming in we are spending £400; or the fact that we’re spending £120 million a day on debt interest payments that could be used to build a school every hour or triple the number of doctors. We just can’t go on like this.

• When the Daily Mail goes on a rant, as it did the day after the Spending Review – lamenting the regional growth fund as ‘a sop to Vince Cable’, the national scholarship fund as ‘a blatant bribe to Liberal Democrat MPs not to cause trouble over university funding’, and blaming us for the rise in international development aid and the Green Bank – you know we’re acting as a useful counterbalance to Tory instincts.

• Has any think tank or other institution done a proposal for taxation and services based on starting from scratch? I mean, like saying ‘Right folks, we have 60 million people on this north-west European island, what services are we going to provide and how should we pay for them through taxes and charges?’ Might be a useful point of reference.

• Why do we continue to have such difficulty taking relatively small sums off the truly stinking rich and diverting them to socially justified projects? Given that a drop in the ocean for some of our wealthiest citizens would make a massive difference to some social initiatives, we must be missing a trick somewhere.

• At risk of criticising my party’s part in the coalition (I), I wish we would stop blaming Labour for the mess. Yes, Labour did make a mess of things (Gordon Brown will go down as a truly disastrous chancellor), but it wasn’t just Labour. The banks had a big part to play, and let’s face it, so did the rest of us by building up massive debts on credit cards because we wanted things we simply couldn’t afford.

• At risk of criticising my party’s part in the coalition (II), I wish rail travel hadn’t been made even more expensive compared with car driving than it is already. Fair taxes on motorists should be based on urban congestion charging (where there's some reasonable revenue to be earned), because that way the people you make pay are those who have the best alternatives to driving, and you respect the lack of choices for those in rural areas. But that option has been spurned in favour of further cuts to rail subsidies.

It will be horrendous to see the cuts become reality over the next few months, as we see things that have been built up over years struck down in months because the funding has run out. But failure to tackle the deficit won’t help our democracy in the long term, so reluctantly I have to accept that the cuts are necessary. I also believe they’re fair, though like everyone else, that hope will only be tested over time.