Fraser Nelson

The social, moral, and economic case for smaller government

The social, moral, and economic case for smaller government
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Ten days on and Danny Finkelstein still seems to be upset with me for my Keith Joseph lecture, where I said the Tories risked being ensnared by Brown's 'investment v cuts' rhetoric. For reasons that I'm still not quite sure of, Danny hates the idea of cuts. He may have (and I hope he didn't) take it personally when I said it was precisely this attitude amongst the Conservatives that created the climate for the fiscal crisis Britain is now facing.

Over the last decade, Brown increased spending by 16 percent of GDP (see graph below)- not only faster than any developed country, but faster than any major country of the postwar period. Why? What was the rush? Germany and Japan in the 30s jacked up their state spending to a similar degree, but they had their reasons. What was Britain's reason? Simply because Brown spotted that the Tories had imploded intellectually. They were utterly disorientated, and in the 2005 election proposed to increase spending, and the tax burden, still further.

In 2007, it got to the stage where Brown - at the peak of the boom - had a 3 percent deficit and got away with it because the Tories did not dare propose to reverse any of his wasteful spending. Brown calculated, correctly, that he faced a one-off opportunity to jack up spending and that it would be a one-way process. Because even if the Tories were in power, they would still be fearful of reversing the state power grab of the last decade. This, of course, was what Keith Joseph described as the Ratchet effect.

Danny points to Nick Robinson's recent swing seat dispatches. The word 'cuts' still makes swing voters wince, he says. He throws it back to me:

"Some voters seemed remarkably unsure about the impact of cuts on their own lives. These people need to shape up, in my opinion. I mean, haven't they read Fraser Nelson's Keith Joseph lecture for goodness sake? It's been more than a week since he delivered it, so they've no excuse.

They would quickly realise that all their doubts are for the birds. Sir Keith, apparently, would have given them short shrift. These voters need to get a little boldness is what I say."

What I would like to see - and, indeed, what David Cameron is already doing - is a Conservative government explaining that state spending will bankrupt the country and bankrupt families. It has to be cut back, because the debt burden is increasing at a rate shown by our CoffeeHouse debt clock (and is even higher if you include things like PFI and the bank debts).

Keith Joseph would not, of course, have 'given them short shrift'. He would have explained the social, moral and economic case for smaller, cheaper government because he believed in it.  I am mystified as to why some an articulate, intelligent Conservative such as Danny should be so passionately opposed to this case being made.

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.