David Blackburn

Cameron’s government has been brave so far; it must not flinch at the finish

Cameron’s government has been brave so far; it must not flinch at the finish
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The spending review’s actors are jostling for position at the final curtain call. Bit-part players are stealing for the prominence of the centre, Whitehall’s bigger beasts fight to preserve their dwindling limelight and the leadership try to direct and subjugate the warring egos. Defence seems more or less settled, with the navy’s grandiose element apparently securing its two super-carriers. Doubts remain over the education budget’s final reckoning and welfare is unsettled as yet.

Après child benefit, le deluge – so to speak. An attack on the principle of universal benefit would have predictable consequences. Questions have arisen about the government’s commitment to the winter fuel allowance and the cold weather payment. Gordon Brown may have scorched the already barren earth by extending these welfare payments in 2008, but the Conservatives have persistently guaranteed to protect them - a position that David Cameron reiterated unequivocally at PMQs yesterday and this morning’s Guardian reports that Cameron will not cut the cold weather payment from £25 a week to £8.50, running from shrill allegations of unfairness or callousness.

It’s unusual for Cameron to choose pusillanimity over boldness. The spending review has been conducted with a calmly radical fervour, requiring that promises made in opposition be broken. The government’s determined spirit is encapsulated by Vince Cable’s pithy response to the barracking he received over tuition fees: ‘We are not in an ideal world; we have faced up to reality.’ Cameron needs to extend his realistic logic about child benefit and concede that his mother doesn’t need the winter fuel allowance. Besides, being seen to hit the well-off is no bad thing if it forces Labour to champion the affluent in the cause of preserving the universal welfare state.