Peter Hoskin

To review or not to review?

To review or not to review?
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So will we see a spending review before the next election or not?  Peter Mandelson said that we wouldn't, but there are rumblings that his claim wasn't Treasury-sanctioned and that he subsequently called Alistair Darling to apologise for making it.  And now today's papers contain two different strands about Darling's own intentions.  In the Independent, Andrew Grice claims that the Chancellor is "said to be moving towards a decision to postpone a government-wide spending review until after the election."  While the Guardian's Patrick Wintour reports that he is "keeping open the option of a slimmed-down spending review in the autumn in which he will spell out the need for any cutbacks in the government's programmes if the public finances require it."

The two reports may seem contradictory but, to my mind, they're testament to the struggle Darling finds himself caught up in.  On one side, there's pressure from the Brown 'n' Balls axis to be misleading about the state of the public finances, and to postpone the spending review indefinitely.  And on the other, the dictates of sanity recommend a more honest approach.  The resolution of this conflict could be a good litmus test for the strength of Darling's position after the last reshuffle.

In the meantime, though, this leaves a massive opportunity for the Tories.  The Government's debt crisis demands far-reaching and bold solutions.  What's needed isn't so much a "slimmed-down spending review," but an extensive audit of how, where and why money can be saved.  In which case, the Mail story about how George Osborne is preparing a "blueprint" for the public finances rather catches the eye.  It should be a main priority for the Tories to set out just how horrendous their inheritance is set be, so that the public are more understanding of the measures that will be necessary to fix it.  Watch this space.