So which is it?
20% ? (June 8, 2010)
25% ? (June 23, 2010)
or 40% ? (July 3, 2010)
Or maybe none of these are possible.
Targets to cut government department spending by £35bn by 2011 are “unlikely” to be met, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.
Since the election, the rhetoric of cuts seems to have been increasing exponentially. I suppose that’s not much of a surprise. After all, why be honest with the voters when they’ll probably only kick you in the face for doing so?
Remember April? Ah yes, the General Election. It was fought over a miserable £6bn of cuts. Labour saying they couldn’t be made this year. Tories saying they very much could. Lib Dems sometimes said they could, sometimes said they couldn’t. It was all a bit uncertain.
Then once that inconvenience of being faced with the public vote was out the way, everyone started talking about the true task ahead.
Only now it seems to be getting more and more ridiculous.
Is the real reason why departments have been asked to plan for 40% cuts such that when they are only asked for a 20% cut it doesn’t sound so bad?
Expectations are everything in life. Stock market, currency and bond prices swing on a daily basis on the mere assumption of expectations of future growth or retrenchment.
Politics is no different. By making out that the government wants to slash and burn to a degree that would be truly unprecedented in modern democracy, we can pretend we’re all soft and cuddly when the cuts are a mere fraction of such a disaster. After all, if your budget is £100bn, and you’re asked to prepare for a cut to £60bn, and you later get told it will just be to £80bn, that’s a 50% reduction in the cut.
And then we have a “Big Society” mantra, which is to take our attention from the cuts taking place in public services by asking us to step forward and provide that same service ourselves for nothing. Just like that. A distraction trick of the highest calibre.
Cynical? Me? With my reputation?
I’m even beginning to think that the cuts may not actually be as drastic as we expect. There are two reasons to think that. First, if the economy starts to tank once more, cuts will simply not be possible, or a depression will ensue. Alternatively, if the economy actually starts to work, cuts so deep will not be necessary after all, and the government may step back from the brink, especially if public opinion starts to turn.
There is either a very clever game in progress here… or I’m crediting our politicians with too much intelligence and Machiavellian countenance. It’ll be fun to find out.