Peter Hoskin

Darling’s position of strength

Interviewed in today’s Indy, Alistair Darling’s “get real” warning to the bankers seems to be grabbing the headlines – but his comments on public spending rather jumped out at me.  After Peter Mandelson said that there wouldn’t be a spending review before the next general election, there were rumblings that Darling was actually still thinking about a pre-election review.  Here, he confirms that:

“Mr Darling insists the uncertain economic position means he cannot decide now whether to go ahead with the scheduled comprehensive spending review (CSR). He will announce his decision in his pre-Budget report, due in November. ‘To do detailed allocations running up to 2013-14 at the moment, with all the uncertainty, just does not make any sense,’ he says.

He promises that, one way or the other, Labour will make its spending priorities clear before the election, in an attempt to flush out the Tories. One option might be a mini-CSR. Another is to announce before the election which budgets would be ring-fenced, challenging the Tories to do the same.

Although he hasn’t yet decided how, Mr Darling promises to ensure a clear choice. ‘We have to be clear, as we go into an election – and the Tories will have to be – which choices we are prepared to make,’ he says. He is already compiling his list of differences, citing the Tories’ refusal to guarantee Labour’s flagship Sure Start centres.” It’s striking just how many internal battles Darling seems to be winning at the moment.  I imagine his strengthened position after the last reshuffle is a contributory factor.  But it also helps that he’s pushing a more politically astute approach to the spending debate.  Sure, there’s a hint of Brown-style deception about the “nasty Tories” above – and I remain doubtful that a “mini-CSR” meets either public expectations or the scale of the debt crisis – but it’s certainly more credible than the crude “investment vs cuts” dividing line.

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