George Osborne has a funny way of saying ‘happy new year’. In his speech in Birmingham this morning, the Chancellor will describe 2014 as the year of ‘hard truths’ about how much more spending needs to be cut in order to close the deficit. So why is the Chancellor kicking off what most commentators are billing as an extremely long general election campaign with a bleak message about more cuts to come? In 2010, the three main parties did everything they could do avoid talking about the detail of the challenge on public spending. Now the Chancellor wants to make it his main weapon against Labour, knowing that voters have been ahead of politicians on supporting deficit reduction, that Labour’s main poll weakness is the economy, and that this focus on tough choices and economic credibility will spook Labour into making more awkward contortions over formerly pet projects and policies in order to give the impression of fiscal responsible.
And yet in his choice of the working-age welfare budget as yet again the focus for the spending cuts – the Chancellor told the Today programme that ‘I think we do have to look at the welfare budget because I think it would be an odd choice as a country to say, “look we’ve got a high deficit and we’re going to deal with that by just cutting the schools budget or the science budget or something like that” and to leave untouched this enormous welfare budget’ – Osborne suggested that he isn’t prepared to talk about the really hard truths either.