Tuesday 25 May 2010

Good cuts, bad cuts

Cuts, and the response to them, is unsurprisingly becoming the defining issue of the early weeks of the coalition government. But pinning the blame for them on the current government whilst ignoring the sins of its predecessor is a trap which we need to avoid.

The difference between the Labour and Conservative parties going into the election was around £6 billion. It sounds like an enormous sum of money, but in terms of the overall total of public expenditure, it's only around 1%. The difference in the total of cuts imposed by this government compared to those which would have been imposed by Labour is pretty small – more a matter of timing than real substance.

It's possible to argue of course that Labour's cuts would have fallen 'elsewhere' – a cynic might argue that keeping that line of argument open if they lost the election was the real reason why Labour was so keen to avoid specifics in advance. We shall, of course, never know for certain, but the spectacle of so many of them lining up to criticise decisions which they would probably have made themselves in other circumstances is not a pretty one.

It's also possible to argue that Labour would have made cuts reluctantly, whereas it is clear that some in the coalition are doing so with a degree of ideological zeal. But cutting services 'only with regret' doesn't make much difference to those no longer receiving them.

In the run-up to the election, it seemed as though Labour's position was that making massive cuts was both inevitable and prudent – but adding another 1% was utterly irresponsible and reckless. Since the election, that mantra, Tory Cuts Bad, Labour Cuts Good has metamorphosed into Tory Cuts Bad, What Labour Cuts?

Inevitably, attention will focus on the actual decisions being made by the current government, rather than those which would have been made by another government had the election result been different. We mustn't let them get away with it.

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