Are the cuts a good thing or not?
Funny question, I know, but I don’t think the government are entirely clear. Ministers at last week’s Liberal Democrat conference, including Nick Clegg, gave the impression that they don’t think cuts are a good thing at all. They emphasised their view that the government isn’t just about cuts, they blamed the Labour government for them and pointed out that, if they had won the election, Labour would have been making its own cuts. I don’t think they would have been saying any of this if they saw cuts in a positive light.
But that isn’t how the Prime Minister feels. Back in August, at his famous “PM Direct” event, Mr. Cameron took a question from a Fire Brigade worker, who asked him to promise to review the cuts when the deficit was paid off.
Will you give me a pledge today that when these austere times are over, and you have the money back in the bank or you’re balancing your books, that you will look at anything that is cut during this period and go back and get in those fire engines back in the places they are needed to support the public?
The Prime Minister refused to give that promise:
The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, I think we should be trying to avoid that approach...
Because I’m not saying we won’t have to make cuts to all sorts of difficult services, because we will, but let’s try and do it in a way that actually is sustainable. And try to make sure that the fire services that we have is capable of doing the very important work we want it to do but let’s all open our minds and think how can we work in a different way.
If the word means anything, “sustainable” cuts must mean cuts that the government wants to maintain, that won’t be reversed when the fiscal situation improves.
The government really must sort out their narrative: either the cuts are a sad necessity, in which case it should be easy to pledge that they will be reversed once finances improve.
Or they are an opportunity to create a new small state equilibrium, in which case expressions of sympathy for the people who lose their benefits and services and workers who become unemployed should be viewed in a different light.
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.