It is a reminder that Budget 2009 was perhaps the most successful in misleading the public. All the attention was on the 50p tax, yet it disguised a dramatic and sustained spending cut. I missed it, but the IFS did not - they calculated it as 2.3% a year for three years, equivalent to some £26bn a year by 2013/14. In the Commons, Darling actively misled MPs when he said spending growth would be 0.7%. But, as ever with a Brown/Balls deception, it was technically true. The phrase he used was “current spending growth” – which is, technically, just one component of government spending. The other is investment (school buildings, roads etc). What Budget 2009 did was to halve investment, from £44bn in 2009-10 to £22bn in 2013-14. The below graph compares ‘investment’ from Budget 08 to Budget 09. These are the Brown cuts.
So – cuts ahoy. This is a crucial departure, which has huge implications for the public and policy. Yet neither Darling nor Brown has ever admitted in public that they plan to decimate so-called investment. They hope to conduct the political debate on a false premise: Labour ‘investment’ versus Tory ‘cuts’. Balls evidently thinks he can keep up this false narrative until the general election. He is probably betting that, because no one other than the IFS has done the maths and discovered the cuts, Fleet St will not recognise them and buy into this fake investment v cuts agenda.
As far as I can see, the choice (as it stands) is 7% cuts with Labour including NHS (as Balls would doubtless put it ‘the equivalent to starving 300 nurses’ and transferring 40 maternity wards to cardboard boxes under Waterloo Bridge) or 10% cuts with the Tories but the NHS protected. The question is not ‘investment v cuts’ but ‘whose cuts are best?' and 'what is the alternative to cuts?’. A narrative which, in my opinion, needs to be built now. I know neither party wants to discuss this pre-election and, as a result, the press is reluctant to start debating neither party will engage on. But these cuts are firmly on the map and implementing them will dominate the next parliament. To deal with a problem, you have to recognise it. It is amazing that, even now, we’re struggling to do that.