This is cross-posted from Freethink.  I know I am going on here. Bear with me.  It matters more than all the tipping-policies, goldfish-at-funfairs, banning brothel-sites stuff put together.

A great deal of fuss was made when Brown used the C word at the TUC conference a fortnight ago.  Finally, the man stops obscuring the issue about public spending cuts when the truth is staring us all in the face, and in his own Budget to boot (see angry posts from June, onwards).

That was meant to be a warm up.  But in his main speech all we got was . . . another long list of Brown “I will delivers”.  If you had stepped into a time machine in 2007 and stepped out here, you would be utterly unaware that £600bn extra debt had arrived on our near future.

Brown, like Liberator magazine, seems to think that accepting the logic of fiscal arithmetic is a political choice. It is not.  Sure – there are plenty of failings of classical economics (read the excellent Skidelsky for many of them). Sometimes spending now can create income later.  But in no way does that failure mean that future policies don’t have to be costed.  That’s maths, or accounting,  not politics.  And if, like Liberator, you got out there calling for ALL policies to be included (including the dreadful Scrap Tuition Fees pledge) no matter what, you have just sent out the message that you’re not a party of government, you’re a student collective playing fantasy politics.
The Times put it best on Brown:

The most astonishing omission was a serious acknowledgment of the need to cut public spending. A section berating the Conservatives for refusing to show their hand might profitably have been followed by the Prime Minister showing his own. Instead he announced a string of new, unfunded spending programmes, as if this was the moment to be adding to what Government does. Naturally, each of his announcements will need to be carefully examined, and it remains to be seen if the more populist proposals stand up to scrutiny. But even if they do, it is hard to see how they can be afforded.

What amazes me is how little commentary can otherwise be found on this astonishing omission.  Take Liberal Conspiracy, for example.  How many posts are there about the lack of maths?  Then, how many are there about Pills?

There’s also loads about PoliticsHome being a Tory front.  This is all about retreating to a comfort zone, not facing the big questions.   Unfortunately, the Tories are going to have an easy ride of it next week.  Not because of pills but because on the Left no-one is forcing them into making their tough choices explicit.  Because, like Liberator, half the commentariat think making things add up is a political choice that you can reject.


9 thoughts on “Brown’s speech, the Elephant in the room

  1. ‘Instead he announced a string of new, unfunded spending programmes, as if this was the moment to be adding to what Government does.’

    Not your words, but I’ll assume you agree as you’ve quoted them.

    What unfunded spending did you see announced in the speech? While I don’t pretend to expertise in ever policy areas coverered, what I saw was a set of announcement about making into formal policy what’s already happening and/or which with some adjustment to the way the same expenditure is made can be implemented at no additional cost.

    I think that’s why he spelt out that everything that they propose will come ‘with a price tag’ i.e. so that he can come back again and again to announce that what he promised is now in train, and as promised at no additional cost.

  2. BUT . . . even once you’ve done that moving of deckchairs, there is the problem that current spending is 20% unfunded. So some of the priorities within budgets are changed – i.e. “We got some of our priorities wrong, we’re changing them: announcing the winners, acting like the losers don’t matter much like NHS advertising – but the macro issue – that somehow the non-NHS, non-Education budgets are going to need to fall by 10-15% in real terms if those two are to be protected promised – is not really mentioned.

    I am struggling to come up with a good analogy. It’s like a household of 4 earners, who pool their money. One of them loses their job. The leader of the house stands up and announces that they are spending their budget on lentils not rice next year: lentils are great (who needs rice). The fact of the income dropping by a quarter is not mentioned.

    So, whether or not his 50,000 chaotic families, gulags for slags (sorry, some other website’s terminology), green homes, care in the home pledges are somehow made up from other items whose demise will go unreported for now, the big one still remains. At least, it does for me.

    best, G

  3. ‘ere mate, don’t you go patronising me with your analogies, especially ones that don’t take into account the fact that lentils and rice cannot be directly subsituted because of their very different carobhydrate/protein qualities. I may not be a trained economist, but I’m a bloody good South Asian urban slum nutritionist (but that’s another story).

    I know what you’re getting at.

    That wasn’t the point of what I was saying, though; whether and to what extents cuts are needed is a wider question and one which involves all the variables you and Duncan are debating here and there.

    My point was specific to what the bloke from the Times said, and merely an indication that he’s wrong to state unequivocally that they are unfunded.

  4. Fair enough. I was reading too quick, both your reply and the Times. Mea culpa

    But if we shift to lentils from rice, I’m voting Tory. Straw, camel’s back.

  5. But in no way does that failure mean that future policies don’t have to be costed.

    I think that this is what Orwell called an “intolerable truth”.

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