James Forsyth

Baseline advantage

Baseline advantage
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One of the advantages the governing party has during an election campaign is the ability to set the baseline. It is your plans which every other parties’ are measured against. So, if they plan extra spending you can accuse them of a ‘tax bombshell’ or if they want to spend less than you, then you can say they want ‘savage cuts.’

After Tuesday’s autumn statement, Treasury sources were adamant that there would be a spending review before the end of this parliament setting out the cuts the coalition would make to meet its fiscal mandate. Danny Alexander confirmed on Newsnight that these would be jointly-agreed coalition cuts.

But Nick Clegg has now suggested on The Andrew Marr Show that only the overall numbers would be agreed, with the parties differing on the details of how the figures would be reached. But it is hard to see how this is compatible with the idea of a spending review before the end of parliament especially given that there is a Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury. 

For the Tories, the key is to control the baseline. If they do, it’ll make it that much easier for them to attack Labour as fiscally irresponsible. This means it is imperative for them to have a spending review that sets out the specifics of the cuts before 2015. It can then challenge Labour to match these spending plans. If they won’t, then the ‘tax bombshell’ campaign is set up.