Posted by Protempore in April's Magazine
As some of our more loyal readers will know, we like to wax lyrical in these pages about the onset of spring. I have, on more than one occasion I’m sure, trumpeted the arrival of the crocuses on the links as being a sure sign of better times ahead. Small daffodils suddenly appear on hillsides in Princes Street gardens, birds start chirruping as soon as the sun makes an appearance in the early morning and people start making plans to swap their overcoats and wellies for cheesecloth shirts and sandals. But when the clocks went forward last week, winter came crawling back over the horizon, reminding us that its darkness still has life in it – it just won’t let go.
Scythe and slash
And talking of darkness, the General Election is only a matter of weeks away, the outcome of which will determine whether we are set to endure a long, cold, and dark economic winter or whether we can at least expect a prolonged spell of tepid and settled weather on our way to recovery. Last night I watched the debate between the three men who are vying to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable stood before an audience and set out their plans for the country should their respective parties be successful at the election.
All three of them spoke of “tough choices ahead” and warned that there would have to be major cuts in expenditure if the country was to emerge intact from the worst global recession in history. Despite this apparent consensus, there are major differences in how all three would go about mending the country’s huge deficit and it is these differences that will determine what the economic weather forecast is going to look like in the next few years.
For Labour, Alistair Darling said that his party would cut the financial deficit (which is expected to hit £167 billion this year) by half over the next four years – a kind of steady repayment policy that would stagger the cuts, which will have to be made across all areas of the economy. A small, recent recovery in the growth of the economy is seen as a fragile indication that a very small corner has been turned and to suddenly take a scythe to public spending would send us hurtling backwards.
The Tories are ready, and willing, to pick up that scythe and slash public services immediately in order to reduce the deficit more quickly. George Osborne has said that the deficit must be dealt with from day one – in other words, massive cuts across areas such as education, housing, and transport. Interestingly, Osborne has also promised to maintain and increase spending in the NHS and provide for tax cuts – he hasn’t, however, explained how he is going to do this when there isn’t a penny in the UK’s bank. As Darling and Vince Cable pointed out in the debate, he is promising something which he can’t possibly deliver on – but there’s an election coming up and he will say anything between now and then to get himself elected to Government. Leading economic think tanks, including the politically independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, have stated that Osborne’s plans are extremely worrying given that he is committed to reducing debt – he simply can’t do both.
Vince Cable has been credited by many as being the man who foresaw the global economic crisis before it hit Britain and is also regarded as one of the most common sense politicians when it comes to the economic recovery. He has also said that the country faces massive cuts in public spending which are quite likely to be worse than those brought about by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Being brutally frank in the recent debate, Cable said that the NHS wouldn’t be immune from cuts and that Darling and Osborne were being dishonest to suggest that it could.
Frankly my dears
He said that there should be a massive shake-up of the structure of the banks in the UK in order to avoid the situation whereby bankers still receive huge bonuses from taxpayer’s money and that the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile should be scrapped along with tax credits for better-off families in order to reduce the budget deficit. Popular policies with some voters and disarming honesty from a politician who could, quite possibly, be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer in a coalition Government after the election.
So what’s it to be? Osborne’s long, dark winter; Darling’s “steady as she goes” journey to a far-off spring; or Cable’s common sense “dress for the weather approach”? Well frankly my dears, that’s up to you – my advice would be to get out and vote on election day whatever the weather because if you don’t you won’t be able to complain when some nasty man tramples all over the crocuses and beckons winter back over the horizon. ν
And if you’re sick of politicians, you can always take the W C Fields approach to elections: “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.”