Cameron is wrong: the spending cuts are ideological

The Prime Minister says the cuts are not due to his “ideological zeal”. Here’s why he’s wrong.

In his New Year message, David Cameron attempts to rebut the charge that the government's spending cuts are ideologically driven.

He writes:

I didn't come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas. We're tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal. This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country's problems, not by ideology.

Here are three reasons why he's wrong.

The coalition could have taxed more and cut less

There was an alternative to George Osborne's £81bn spending cuts: higher taxes on the richest in our society. The Chancellor has chosen to reduce the deficit through a 59:41 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises in 2010/2011, rising to 77:23 by 2015/2016 (see Table 1.1 in the Budget).

But as the graphic below from the Economist shows, most deficit reductions have involved a far more even split between tax rises and spending cuts.

Deficit-reduction

The coalition's deficit reduction programme relies more heavily on spending cuts than all but two of the largest OECD fiscal consolidations.

A higher level of tax rises on top earners would have enabled a more progressive programme of fiscal consolidation (the cuts are, by any measure, regressive) and, as I explain below, a less economically reckless approach.

The coalition could have raised more revenue through a tax on land value (69 per cent of which is owned by just 0.6 per cent of the population); a genuine crackdown on the £25bn lost each year through tax avoidance; a tougher, not a weaker, bank levy; and higher, not lower, corporation tax.

The decision to rely on punitive spending cuts to reduce the deficit was a political choice, not an economic necessity.

Spending cuts harm the economy more than tax rises

Economists are agreed that the government's spending cuts will hit growth harder than tax rises would. As Duncan Weldon explains at the excellent False Economy, the fiscal multiplier (the effect on GDP of a tax rise or a spending cut) proves as much. The Office for Budget Responsibility's own multipliers (see Table C8 in the Budget) show that the cuts will reduce growth by significantly more than the coalition's tax rises.

As the shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, noted in his pre-Spending Review speech: "We know from the Office for Budget Responsibility's own figures that a spending cut hits growth twice as hard as a tax change – three times as hard when it's capital spending."

The government's decision to ignore such economic evidence is the result of an ideological preference for spending cuts.

The cuts are permanent, not temporary

When asked by a Fire Brigade worker last summer if funding would be restored once the deficit has been addressed, Cameron replied:

The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, [is] I think we should be trying to avoid that approach.

The Prime Minister's insistence that we should try to "avoid that approach" reveals an ideological attachment to the small state and to low levels of public spending. The result will be permanently shrunken public services.

The cuts will reduce public spending from 47.3 per cent of GDP in 2010/2011 to 39.8 per cent in 2015/2016 – equivalent to reductions made by Margaret Thatcher between 1979 and 1990. But for many on the right, this is just the beginning of their long war against the active state.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.