Alex Massie

Dave’s Cuts are Really Gordon’s Cuts

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David Cameron's speech on reducing public spending, curbing the deficit and tackling the national debt was important stuff. Not least because, at some length, he pointed out the poisonous position the incoming government faces to make it clear that, far from being Tory cuts, when the axe comes, as fall it must, the underlying responsibility for these spending cuts belongs to Labour not the Camerlegg Ministry. 

In one sense this is cheeky: it's Dave's ball now and his to play with and decide the rules too. And it was a stretch to say that spending reductions aren't driven by at least an element of "theory or ideology". They are. Which is why Labour spent years pursuing its "Investment vs Cuts" strategy only for that to morph into a muddled "We Will Have to Cut Spending But Remember At Least, Unlike the Nasty Tories We Don't Really Want to Do It and Won't Gain Some Pseudo-Sexual Thrill from Doing So." 

Still, this was a sensible, grown-up speech that, perhaps apropriately given the subject matter, was shorn of anything that might even be mistaken for rhetoric. In this sense the speech had a plain-spoken old-fashioned aspect. Consider his opening:

I have now been in office for nearly a month.

I have spent much of that time discussing with the Chancellor and government officials the most urgent issue facing Britain today: our massive deficit and growing debt.

How we deal with these things will affect our economy, our society - indeed our whole way of life. The decisions we make will affect every single person in our country. And the effects of those decisions will stay with us for years, perhaps decades to come.

It is precisely because these decisions are so momentous. Because they will have such enormous implications. And because we cannot afford either to duck them or to get them wrong that I want to make sure we go about the urgent task of cutting our deficit in a way that is open, responsible and fair.

I want this government to carry out Britain's unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country.

I have said before that as we deal with the debt crisis we must take the whole country with us - and I mean it.

George Osborne has said that our plans to cut the deficit must be based on the belief that we are all in this together - and he means it. Tomorrow, George Osborne and Danny Alexander will publish the framework for this year's Spending Review. They will explain the principles that will underpin our approach, and the process we intend to follow, including a process to engage and involve the whole country in the difficult decisions that will have to be taken.

But today, I want to set out for the country the big arguments that form the background to the inevitably painful times that lie ahead of us.

Why we need to do this.

Why the overall scale of the problem is even worse than we thought.

And why its potential consequences are therefore more critical than we feared.

This isn't the kind of speech-writing that is rewarded with spots in Dictionaries of Quotations but it's good work too and you should read the whole thing even if, as always, it's punctuated for delivery, not for reading.

As I say, the speech isn't entirely without its moments of political sleight of hand but overall it's probably as close to the kind of straight-talk everyone claims they want from politicians but that politicians, for understandable reasons, are often wary of delivering for the very good reason that there's every justification for supposing that the public aren't interested in handling the truth until it's forced upon 'em at the very last possible moment.

James

Even so, it's clear that there's going to be trouble with the public sector unions. Dave's "Two Economies" - public and private sector - approach is well-made on the merits but when the strikes begin, as begin they surely will, not everyone is likely to see the public sector workers they know or are related to as the fat-cat enemy...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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