Peter Hoskin

The Tories should resist any temptation to go soft on debt

The Tories should resist any temptation to go soft on debt
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Of all the findings from today's ICM poll for the Guardian, I imagine this one will concern the Tory leadership most:

"Just two months ago, 49 percent of voters said they thought Cameron and Osborne would do better than Darling and Brown, but that figure is 38 percent today."

They're still ahead of Brown and Darling – who are langushing on 31 percent – but the drop is still pretty striking.  What's more, it seems to go against conventional wisdom about fixing the fiscal mess we're in.  While they could still go further in setting out a few specifics, the fact is that the Tory pair have spent the last couple of months railing against the the twin debt and deficit burdens, and stressing the need for spending cuts.  Their broad message has been backed up, in the wake of the Pre-Budget Report, by more or less blanket agreement that the government isn't doing enough to keep our debt levels in check.  Surely that kind of thing should increase the Tories' credibility, not decrease it?

The most obvious conclusion to draw is that some of the public are getting nervous about the task which lies ahead – that there is, as the Guardian puts it, "continuing public reluctance to accept the tough choices that balancing the government's books will require."  If that's the case, then there'll be a temptation for the Tories to water down their rhetoric on debt and spending, to retreat to ever less radical policy positions.  They should resist it.  The markets are already worried by what they see happening, and it would be harmful for the nation as a whole if they were given even more cause for concern.

So what, then?  My feeling is that the Tories could do more to set out how their deficit-reduction plans sit within a wider package for economic growth.  But I'd be keen to hear CoffeeHousers' views.