Fraser Nelson

Osborne’s milestone article

Osborne's milestone article
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George Osborne's article today is a breakthrough in the public debate about cuts. I argued in the NotW yesterday that, so far, no party is telling the whole truth because the Tories have been using phrases like "spending restraint," which is hardly commensurate with the cuts in prospect. That point is now out of date. As Osborne puts it:

"Even we - like Labour politicians - have fought shy of using the "c" word" - cuts. We've all been tip-toeing around one of those discredited Gordon Brown dividing lines for too long. The real dividing line is not 'cuts versus investment' but honesty versus dishonesty."

This is what we have been calling for here at Coffee House. Osborne goes one better: that extract I just quoted is implicit recognition that the Conservatives have been worrying for too long about what Gordon Brown might say. As Osborne says, tip-toeing around Brown's intellectual parameters has been the curse of the modernising project, repressing their bolder instincts. The error was to use Brown's rebuttals as reference points, when deciding how they should express the Tory message to the public.

Osborne's article today explicitly breaks free of this. It disavows the false parameters of debate that Brown has set for too long. It regards him, and his lies, as a squalid irrelevance. This is what an intellectually self-confident party does. As Osborne puts it:

"If you talk honestly to the public about the spending decisions that need to be taken, they will respect you and support you. It is time for the Conservatives to have that conversation with the British people."

This is, IMHO, the most significant article that Osborne has ever written. If the Tory party now adopts this strategy across the board: to speak honestly and directly to the public, ignoring the rantings of desperate and discredited Prime Minister. If they have the courage to do so, then they will find themselves after the election with not just a large majority, but a large mandate. And the latter is far more important.

P.S. THX1138 asked an important question yesterday: is there any evidence that cuts are popular with the public? This is a crucial point, because there is evidence aplenty. As the Canadian and Australian blow-ups demonstrated, the public have an acute sense of fiscal danger: national debt is not an abstract concept to them.

Westminster is (as so often) behind the rest of the country. The political cliches about cuts may resonate in the Commons chamber, but not in the country at large. Quite a few polls have found this, but I would direct CoffeeHousers to a deliberative poll commissioned by The Spectator and Politicshome into this very issue - it found that 72% support cuts. Full details here.

P.P.S. Simon Mayo is doing this subject at one on Five Live: I'll be joining the debate.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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