Monday, 1 February 2010

Is Cameron Clever on Cuts ?

Since David Cameron and George Osborne commented at Davos that in Government they would NOT be instigating a policy of rapid and deep spending cuts, the Conservative blogsphere has worked itself into a real frenzy.

In addition with a couple of weekend polls hinting at the first signs of slippage in the Conservative lead, we are perhaps seeing the first signs of real nerves in Tory ranks as we close in on the start of the real election campaign itself.

The problems for the Conservatives began with the publication of the terrible Q4 GDP figures last week. At just 0.1%, the "growth" figure was far worse than expected and points to ongoing serious problems for the economy. The other consequence of the weak economy is the real risk that rapid and deep spending cuts, while helping the public finances, would have the effect of pushing the country back into recession by weakening economic activity.

On the other side of the coin, analysts such as Allister Heath from City AM have continued to warn of the consequences in the markets of the continued weakness of the public finances. These include problems for sterling, problems with gilts and the very real risk of the downgrading of the country's credit status and all the issues that would follow. Heath has been persistent in his call for any new Government to take rapid action to cut public spending and reduce borrowing.

For the Conservatives, there is another dimension. While an overt policy promising rapid spending cuts might suit the markets, it doesn't resonate well with many voters and lays the party open to the traditional charges of wanting to destroy public services and the undercurrent of that still resonates with voters familiar with the Thatcher and Major years.

In his desperate attempt to hold the Cameron Coalition together, the Tory leader is determined to say and do nothing which will alienate his coalition of followers. He can be hard on crime, immigration, benefit scroungers and the like because that's what his supporters want him to be
but the same supporters are much less disposed toward cuts in public services and indeed Cameron has gone out of his way to be seen to be protecting the NHS for example.

Thus, Cameron is caught between a rock and a hard place and it remains to be seen how the markets will respond to this apparent indecision. Indeed, Labour and the Liberal Democrats now seem much more convincing on the public finances than the Conservatives and this has to be a concern.

The public mood however seems determined to be "anyone but Labour" and this is hardly surprising. I have long had doubts about an incoming Conservative Government and this has only increased my worries. I have no time for Labour's authoritarian policies but I am just as unconvinced by the current Conservative indecision.

There is a real vacumn in the debate now which Nick Clegg should be seeking to exploit and it's disappointing that he seems unable to break through though his speech at Barnado's yesterday had a raft of interesting ideas which played to the well-worn theme of taking the lower-paid out of tax and taking more tax from the wealthy. Not perhaps a vote-winner but entirely sensible.

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