Andrew Grice: Cameron is determined to win a mandate for cuts

Yesterday's package ensures a debate on real cuts. The phoney war about efficiency savings is over

Share
Related Topics

After Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, she implemented an independent commission's proposal for public sector pay to rise by a thumping 26 per cent. Taxes went up, not down, and the Thatcherites later regretted their mistake.

If David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next spring, things can only get bitter for 4 million public sector workers, whose pay would be frozen in 2011. The Tory leader is hoping that people who tell opinion pollsters they want public spending to be cut to rein in Britain's huge budget deficit will accept their share of the pain.

But Labour ministers suspect that people may not necessarily translate their general view into a personal sacrifice. Not out of my wallet, thanks, could become the new Nimbyism. Ministers hope that their families and friends will be angry too.

"Vote for me, I'll freeze your pay" is hardly an election-winning slogan. Shadow cabinet ministers admitted privately last night that the Tories are taking a big risk. But Mr Cameron is determined to win a mandate for spending cuts. After yesterday's initial hitlist from the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, no one will be able to say they were not warned.

The move breaks with tradition. Since 1992, when John Smith's "Shadow Budget" for Labour promised to raise national insurance contributions, openness in election manifestos has been out of fashion. Although his plans would have raised child benefit and pensions rather than filled a black hole in the public finances, the Tories converted them into a "tax bombshell" targeted at Middle England. Labour lost the election.

The Tories will not produce a "Shadow Budget", on the ground that they will not know the true state of the nation's books until after polling day. But they want to be "honest" about the sort of medicine they know they would have to administer. The £158bn a year public sector pay bill cannot be immune, they judge.

Shadow ministers are preparing for unpopularity. Yesterday I asked one of them how long their honeymoon would last after the election. "Two days," he quipped. He was only half-joking.

Yes, they could blame their inheritance on Labour for a while. Some senior Tories think they would get the benefit of the doubt for two years. Mr Cameron thinks he must hit the ground running, unlike Tony Blair who, the Tory leader believes, continued to act as an opposition candidate after becoming Prime Minister. The Cameroons think the first six months would be decisive.

Yesterday's package ensures a real debate about real cuts. The phoney war about paper clips and efficiency savings is over. Yet by boldly jumping first, the Tories leave themselves open to a Labour counter-attack, and possible criticism by independent analysts. An inevitable election-style war of words between the two main parties duly broke out last night.

The other risk in yesterday's declaration is that it will undermine Mr Cameron's attempt to position himself as a modern, "one nation", progressive Tory. Many people on £20,000 a year will not regard themselves as well off and able to take the strain of a pay freeze. Some on higher incomes may feel that those below them are being penalised, underlining Labour's attack on the Tories as the party of the "privileged few" rather than the "mainstream majority". And that could be dangerous.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Behaviour Support Assistant (BSA)

(?19,817 ? ?21,734)Pro Rata: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support Assis...

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Liberian-American mother has helped launch a campaign to stop the stigmatisation of those from countries affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa  

Ebola in the US: Are we letting fear win?

Idris Bello
The app is due to be launched in San Francisco initially, with other 300 people currently on the waiting list  

Is it too much to ask that people turn up to meet you when they say they will?

Simon Kelner
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?