Clearly Nick Clegg has been doing a little too much 4chan lately, trying to keep up, or down, with the kids. Anyone with a bit of internet nous will have heard the meme: “adjective noun is adjective” – and it seemed like Mr Clegg was enjoying using it this morning.
In two separate interviews on BBC outlets, while doing the rounds celebrating the coalition’s 100th day as if it were an achievement equal to the discovery that the Earth orbits the sun, he described the comprehensive spending review as “comprehensive”. Gee, that’s useful!
But the argument itself was rather specious, for the comprehensive spending review (CSR from now on to save my fingers!) is not exactly comprehensive at all. The mere notion that the government reduces every budget to zero and works upwards is a nonsense. Some programs are never going to be cut. We’re not exactly going to stop funding our wars. Meanwhile, we’ve been told the NHS budget is ringfenced. And yes, that milk in primary school scheme isn’t going anywhere either.
So to dodge questions about whether X programme is in jeopardy, or Y is going to be protected, by replying saying the CSR is “comprehensive”, that no decisions have been taken yet, but everything is up for grabs, is misleading. Everything isn’t up for grabs. Child benefit is going nowhere. Neither is the winter fuel allowance.
But that’s how all this started. All of a sudden, journalists have remembered that politicians are politicians, and unless they’ve given a Sherman pledge on something, there is always wriggle room. For instance (page 26):
We will protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel, and free eye tests and prescriptions.
“Protect” is the verb. Protect is meaningless. One could argue that increasing the winter fuel allowance age limit to 66 is indeed “protecting” it, because if the government didn’t take such “bold and decisive action to preserve our economy” then the whole benefit would have to be scrapped. Easy.
Nowhere in that pledge does it say the government will not adjust eligibility requirements, or the value of the benefit-in-kind. And because of that, politicians, even in this “new politics”, are always going to be tempted to run things up the flagpole.
Of course, if the coalition document was full of Sherman pledges – comprehensive, shall we say – then it would run to about 3,000 pages, with a verbose explanation of every policy, covering every possible scenario. It would also be very boring and highly predictable. And, of course, it would only exist in cloud cuckoo land.
Not much of a spectator sport then. And that’s the comprehensive truth.