To be honest, I suspect the mixed message is down to confusion in government over their new approach to spending cuts. As Richards points out elsewhere in the piece, different members of the government are still emphasising different things: Gordon Brown continues to harp on about "investment", while Alistair Darling talks more about debt reduction. In the meantime, Treasury folk I speak to don't know what's going on.“
"The preliminary manoeuvring begins today when the Chancellor delivers a lecture on the principles that will guide the Government's approach, in effect arguing that while the Tories 'wallow' in the prospect of spending cuts he will take a more expedient approach, in terms of timing, pace, depth and in his view that the Government can still play a creative role as an enabler in the delivery of public services. But even this early message is hazy. Contrary to some authoritative briefings, I am told that the Government has not agreed to include the NHS and international aid as candidates for possible cuts or 'savings'."
The Tories must be looking on with glee. As I said yesterday, health and international development cuts represent one of Labour's few remaining chances to outflank the Cameroons on any issue. But, as it is, it seems the government can't even decide which line to take.