As the Tory Party’s David Cameron and the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg try to stitch up a deal to form a UK government it’s worth analysing how the Labour spinners got it so wrong.
Most pundits are agreed that they did so because PM Gordon Brown and sidekick education minister Ed Balls insisted on a strategy of ‘Tory cuts against Labour investment.’ That is, the Tories would cut expenditure too far too fast, thereby taking the UK back to the grim reaper years of the early Margaret Thatcher administration.
But nearly all the media comment about the dire state of Britain was on the need to allay the evil and all-encompassing markets, the bond traders who would punish the UK if its worryingly large deficit wasn’t slashed – and fast.
So voters, or enough of them to give the Tories the most votes and most seats in the new Parliament, seem to have panicked, believing that the UK economy was going to hell in a handcart.
But the reality is that the previous Labour government was cutting public expenditure hard and fast.
Speak to any private sector business that deals with public sector clients and they’ll tell you that budgets are already being slashed – 20 per cent is not unusual in terms of capital projects.
Council spending and NHS Trust recruitment is already going swiftly into reverse as the much-maligned ranks of managers these entities have recruited in recent years try to protect their own status by doing what they think the next government wants them to do, and what the previous government told them on the quiet to do. Cut, cut and cut.
There was concrete evidence of this in the March Budget when chancellor Alistair Darling announced that the infamous national deficit wasn’t £178bn, as his own department the Treasury had forecast, but £167bn. And this wasn’t all due to better than expected employment and the one-off tax on the banks.
Brown and Balls could have easily taken some of the wind out of their opponents’ sails by explaining how they were cutting already.
But the old Labourites somehow or other couldn’t bring themselves to do this – even though not doing so might have cost them the election.
When George Osborne or, rather better, Ken Clarke, stands up to deliver his ’emergency budget’ 50 days after the new government takes power they may well find that the public finances aren’t quite the basket case the voters thought.
Brown will no doubt say, “I told you so.”
So why didn’t he?