Peter Hoskin

The central tensions undermining Brown’s “Tory cuts” argument

Just to prove that Brown ‘n’ Balls haven’t locked Alistair Darling in the basement of the Treasury, the official Chancellor gets an interview in the FT today.  Plenty of stuff in there about green shoots, oil prices and those darstardly Germans, but it’s this passage which jumped out at me:

“The chancellor is quick to criticise what he characterises as the Conservatives’ plans to cut public spending by 10 per cent, but he does not follow Gordon Brown’s tactic of claiming public spending under a Labour government would be bountiful. In making that claim the prime minister used the longer-range Budget forecasts which are not adjusted for inflation.

Mr Darling says: ‘I have always been clear that, just as we support the economy now, in the medium term we have got to live within our means and I set out a clear commitment to halve the deficit over a five-year period.'” To my mind, this exemplifies two of the main tensions operating against Brown’s “cuts vs investment” line.  First, the sheer implausibility of attacking “Conservative plans” to cut spending, when the follow-up line is that “we have got to live within our means”.  And, second, Darling’s typical reluctance to follow the Brown agenda 100%.  Indeed, the strained relationship between Numbers 10 and 11 looks set to be one of the defining features of what’s left of Brown’s premiership.  Tony Blair must look on and laugh.

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