Peter Hoskin

What did Mitchell mean?

Andrew Mitchell is doing the media rounds to discuss the Tories’ new policy paper on international development, and he seemed to let slip with a major claim on defence spending to the BBC earlier.  Here’s how the indispensable PoliticsHome reports it:

“Mr Mitchell said that it was not a question of choosing between the budgets for defence and international development, adding that the two departments would work much more closely under a Conservative government.

I don’t think that defence will face cuts, but it’s not a question of either or, you have to do both,” he said.

‘The development effort in Afghanistan which hasn’t always gone well and so to upgrade we need to have much closer coordination than we’ve had in the past,’ he added.” So does Tory high command share Mitchell’s view on defence spending?  Does this count as a new, official commitment to sit alongside the ring-fenced international development and health budgets?  Erm, no.  The Tory get-out line is that Mitchell was speculating solely about “helicopters and equipment” in Afghanistan, rather than the overall defence budget, and that they’re still operating under the assumption of cuts in overall defence spending.  Hm.  He sure could have made that clearer.

Either way, I imagine Dave ‘n’ George will be far from amused.  Whatever you may think about the level of defence spending, the state of the public finances means that no politician should be confident about future spending levels, let alone making casual remarks which suggest one department or another will be shielded from cuts.  You just hope that the loose-lipped rhetoric doesn’t mean politicians are still in denial about the scale of Brown’s debt crisis.

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