Alex Massie

Let Us Now Praise... Liam Byrne

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The new firm of


Osborne* & Laws got off to a good start yesterday. True, trimming £6bn from this year's budget is a trivial task compared to the decisions that lie ahead but as a statement of good sense and prooof of good intentions it was, as I say, a good start**.

The plain truth is that the government will lose around £500m every day this year. That's not sustainable and when put in such terms the public can understand, one trusts, that something will have to give.

Let us now praise a Labour minister: Liam Byrne. Not for the fiscal profligacy that has left the public finances in much worse shape than they had to be  - a recession and banking calamity made some losses inevitable - but for the political cover he's given the new coalition. Indeed, George Osborne is heavily-kevlared: not only does David Laws minimise the impact of the "Tory cuts" accusation, so Liam Byrne's note to his successosr apologising that, sorry old chap, "There's no money left" makes the case for fiscal restraint for the new Chancellor.

Perhaps Byrne was joking but, as we all know, there's many a truth spoken, or written, in jest and here, in a single line, is all the justification for fiscal restraint and recovery that any new Chancellor could need. Any time any government minister appears on television of the radio and is criticised for the coming cuts all he need do is trot out Byrne's admission that, remember, "There's no money left" to demonstrate that even those who spent all the money appreciate that there comes a point at which the stuff simply runs out.

Rarely can an outgoing cabinet minister done such a favour for his successors. A new government enjoys a degree of credibility and, for a while, the benefit of the doubt too. Such happiness wears off eventually, for sure, but Liam Byrne may have delayed that moment just by a bit and, given the nature of the decisions that lie ahead, every bit counts and so for that too he should be thanked.

UPDATE: I see - thanks Pete - that Byrne has a list of 50 questions for the government. Judging from this peevish list you could be forgiven for assuming that the government must actually be running a surplus right now...

*Er, yes, as commenters point out it's probably time I remembered how to spell the Chancellor's surname.

**Scrapping Child Trust Funds for the poor would not have been my first choice of cut but let's not quibble: everyone is going to see some thinggs they like disappear in the next few years.

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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