Alex Massie

Everyone wants to cut public spending, right?

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Fraser's back and forth with the estimable Danny Finkelstein about public spending and the Tories is excellent stuff. Fraser concludes by saying that, regardless of tactical differences, on a strategic level "we're all cutters now". And of course in one sense he's right: anyone who wins the election is going to have to be prepared to be unpopular. Perhaps very unpopular.

And are we all cutters anyway? In the abstract yes, but not when it comes to any given project or department or priority. Consider this chart which though from a Pew survey in the United States would, I suspect, be mirrored by any comparable British poll. Pew asked voters if they wanted to see spending increased or decreased or stay the same in various departments:

As you see, the (American) public is only keen on cutting foreign aid - coincidentally the only budget the Tories have pledged to increase - and wants extra spending pretty much everywhere else. Now, sure, this is an American poll but I'd be amazed if British attitudes were very different.

So cutting spending will probably be as unpopular as it is likely to be difficult. There doubtless is plenty of wasteful government spending but identifying it and looking for our old chums Efficiency Savings can only take one so far and it seems silly to suppose otherwise.

Understandably, since they're not in the business of courting unpopularity, this is not the sort of thing politicians really want to talk about. But it also demonstrates just why it will be so difficult - in both Britain and America - to actually tackle the deficits accumulated in recent years. Perhaps we could do with a better class of politician but a better type of voter wouldn't hurt either.

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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