Cameron fails first big test
It couldn’t have been clearer. The Conservative Party election manifesto – their invitation to us to join the government of Britain – set out the situation in plain language:
“we will take immediate action to cut a net £6 billion of wasteful departmental spending in the financial year 2010/11, with further savings in future years … Former government advisers Sir Peter Gershon and Dr Martin Read have advised us that savings of £12 billion across all departmental spending are possible in-year without affecting the quality of frontline services”.
So voters could put their cross in the Conservative box, safe in the knowledge that only “wasteful spending” would be cut this year, “without affecting the quality of frontline services”.
Would-be university students, many of them voting for the first time, could confidently vote Conservative, secure in their belief that a cut of 10,000 university places in the forthcoming academic year would never happen, because higher education couldn’t possibly be classified as “wasteful”. More vulnerable would-be employees, who might look for support from the Future Jobs Fund, could support the Conservatives, since efforts to help them into work clearly depended on a high quality of frontline services.
Indeed, to highlight their point about efficiencies, the Conservatives, in their manifesto, spoke of a freeze on new ICT spending, negotiations to achieve a better deal from government suppliers, better public sector recruitment, reductions in discretionary spending and reductions in public sector property costs.
So when David Cameron gave his first interview as Prime Minister on the ‘Today’ programme this morning, the least he could have done was to apologise to those who have already been let down, after only two weeks of his Government. But not a bit of it. Gone was his confidence in the efficiency savings to be had, identifiable while in Opposition, so much so that he could make such a bold promise to voters. Instead, he offered us this justification: “until you are actually in charge of the ship you can’t actually see what the penalty clauses are and what projects have been signed up to.”
Then he falls back on that old politician’s trick of telling us, the voters, what is important:
“the key thing is we promised £6bn of spending reductions, we have delivered £6bn of spending reductions”.
No, Prime Minister, the key thing is you promised to cut £6bn of waste, which wouldn’t affect real people’s life chances, such as future students or those needing help to get into work. What’s more, the country was awash with organisations, the TUC prominent among them, who told you that this couldn’t be done. Now that you’ve been proved wrong on this, please talk to public sector organisations and all those affected before the next cuts happen. Otherwise, there really could be trouble ahead.