David Cameron's neatly-constructed article in the Sunday Times (£)
perfectly typifies the balancing act he is performing ahead
of this autumn's Spending Review. The Prime Minister has to sound tough on the deficit because, thanks to the fiscal brinksmanship of one G. Brown, that's the job he has been appointed to do. But
he doesn't want to come across as sadistic or gloomy, lest it alienate voters and coalition partners alike. The edges of the cuts need to be rounded off, made more presentable.
To that end, Cameron suggests first that the cuts aren't ideological. There are, he says, items of spending that he'd like to keep – but wider budget constraints mean that he can't. Or
as he puts it, "In government we’ve made [this] decision on some benefits, such as tax credits, for families in the middle income bracket. These transfers are not an intrinsically
bad idea, but in the context of cuts to other services they are clearly not as high a priority as they once were." And then there's a heavy emphasis upon the future gains from a tighter
approach now: growth, jobs, reform, all that stuff. To press the point home, the article ends on hopeful note: "That’s the light at the end of the tunnel — and I am determined
we will get there."
In many respects, this careful approach to explaining the cuts reflects the coalition's nervousness about the Spending Review. Many were pleasantly surprised at the public's reception to the
Emergency Budget, and think it demonstrated how the government has slowly been winning the argument on the public finances. But, even so, they always thought this autumn would be the real
flashpoint. That's when the cuts will be set out in black and white, and when the unions and Labour will have had a chance to form and mobilise their opposition. Any mistakes or mis-steps, they
fear, and the entire project could be mortally wounded.