David Blackburn

The centre left asks how? Well, here’s how

The centre left asks how? Well, here’s how
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The One Nation sentiments that David Cameron expressed at last night’s Hugo Young lecture have been almost uniformly applauded. Labour’s sneers about Cameron being an uber-Thatcherite are isolated from mainstream. Only Johann Hari dissents, suggesting that because Cameron is an OE and comfortably off it follows that ‘he has never known’ a poor person. Of course, if Cameron were the re-incarnation of Lord Salisbury, then Dave would have ample understanding of, and who knows perhaps even intimacy with, the various retainers, ostlers, scullery maids and farriers in his employ. Patricians have long since retired to enjoy what’s left of their estates, and Cameron’s sentiments are genuine and inflect his politics, simple as that.

The argument that the rest of the centre left media deploy is acute. How does Cameron intend to enact his vision against the backdrop of cuts? The leader in the Independent asks:

‘It is hard to see such a revolution in the provision of public services taking place in the context of the severe budget cuts that the Conservatives have, of late, pressed for. Indeed, savage fiscal retrenchment could conceivably doom Mr Cameron's project. If a future Conservative administration tries to achieve this revolution on the cheap it is likely to collapse, leaving the whole idea discredited.’

And Polly Toynbee, apoplectic no doubt that Cameron was being progressive on the Guardian’s patch, described Cameron, ‘the social butterfly’, flitting ‘intelligently across the difficult social questions while leaving not a footprint of policy behind him’. Even the Daily Telegraph has doubts.

These criticisms are legitimate, but there is an answer. Daniel Finkelstein and Coffee House note that the Tories’ small state proposals will require short term spending for long term saving. IDS’ seminal report concurred: stating that the plan would have an up-front cost of £2.7 billion, but the deliver savings of £3.4 billion a year.

How can the Tories fund up front costs? As James revealed in the magazine recently, they plan a fiscal upheaval, through a combination of tax rises, specified spending cuts, efficiency savings and retrenchment, that will enable targeted spending increases; as Cameron said, this is not about 'no government' but government re-distributed. That is the theory and it is plausible. But it is far from certain that the Tories will inherit the financial resources to implement their radical agenda in its entirety.