Will George Osborne really make those 25 per cent cuts?

Michael Portillo warns Chancellor that extra tax rises may be needed to take the strain off cuts.

The most significant moment in George Osborne's Budget came when the Chancellor confirmed that he will cut spending on all non-protected departments (everything except Health and International Development) by 25 per cent on average. We won't get the full details until the spending review in October but that figure is chilling enough on its own.

Osborne told the House that he recognised the "particular pressures" on education and defence, a clear suggestion that spending in these areas will not be cut by that amount. But concessions for some means even more pain elsewhere. How would our substandard transport system cope with cuts of say 30 per cent?

It is for such reasons that some Tory figures are starting to doubt whether it will be either desirable or possible for Osborne to cut spending by this amount.

Michael Portillo, once chief secretary to the Treasury, has said he is "highly sceptical" that Osborne will maintain his plan to reduce the deficit through a 77:23 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. He predicts that the coalition will revert to something like the 50:50 split adopted by Ken Clarke during the last major period of fiscal retrenchment in the 1990s.

Even the Economist, which endorsed the Tories at the election, has called for a more balanced apporach:

The Tories have said they want to rely on taxes for a fifth of the consolidation. That may be too ambitious. If something like 2 per cent of GDP were found by higher taxes, leaving spending to be cut by 5 per cent of GDP, it would still be a tougher mix than all but two of the ten biggest OECD deficit-cutters managed.

I expect once the cuts start hurting their constituents, a significant number of Tory MPs will feel the same way.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.