Peter Hoskin

Darling struggles to find consistency

Darling struggles to find consistency
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Alistair Darling's got an interview in today's FT, and you know the story by now.  Yep, the government thinks that borrowing needs to come down drastically; extra growth would go towards cutting the structural deficit; there'll be the "toughest settlement" on public spending for twenty years, only it shouldn't be introduced too quickly; those bankers aren't quite as evil as previously suggested; and so on and so on.  As we've said before, it's certainly an improvement on that fatuous investment-vs-cuts line.  But you've got to wonder whether the public will find it credible, in view of what Brown & Co. have said, and done, in the past.

Reading the complete transcript, a couple more inconsistencies jump out as Darling struggles to merge his more honest approach with some of the government's pre-existing attacks.  One comes when the Chancellor criticises the Tories for wanting to cut spending earlier than Labour would, from this year on.  This, he scoffs, would take "another £25, £26 billion out of the economy ... and ... [the Conservatives] can’t say what the effect of that would be."  But, eager also to attack the substance of the Tories' deficit-reduction plans, Darling also says:

"If you look at what [the Conservatives have] identified, they’ve identified less being spent, consultancy on advertising. Well, we’ve already cut those budgets last November. There’s the abolition of tax credits over 50,000. Well, the amount of money you save for the actual over 50,000s is not much. Where you do make savings, and savings are identified, takes you down to people whose incomes are ust about 30,000."    

Hang on.  The government have already implemented a chunk of the Tory cuts, or think the Tory cuts don't save enough?  Ok, there may be a legitimate case about whether the Tories have given us enough detail.  But this will be difficult for Labour to make if they're also conjuring up the spectre of savage Tory axes falling come June.  The message comes across rather mixed.

And then there's the confusion over the government's own spending plans.  The FT's men, Chris Giles and George Parker, rightly concentrate on the disconnect between Darling establishing a target to halve government borrowing over four years, on the one hand, and saying that the fiscal climate is too uncertain to detail any spending plans, on the other.  This is where Darling seems most uncomfortable, and he even seems to concede the point:

"You’re right. You do need the spending plans and you do that in the spending reviews because you then will have a better idea of how much you’re going to be spending on unemployment, how much you’re going to be spending on debt interest, how much you’re going to allocate for current expenditure."

To be fair, Darling does go on to say that he'll provide more detail on spending in the Budget.  But will that really clear up this central inconsistency?  CoffeeHousers, over to you