Leading article: Mr Cameron, and the search for economic credibility

Gordon Brown deserves flak – but the Tories must set out an alternative

Share
Related Topics

It has taken a global economic crisis, but there is finally some serious distance between our two political parties on economic policy. Until a few months ago, the Government and the official opposition were locked in a bad-tempered embrace, with the Conservatives pledged to stick to the Government's spending plans in the immediate term if they took office. Tax cuts were also ruled out by the Tory leadership team. But the economic crash has changed all that. There is now a clear difference in approach, confirmed yesterday by David Cameron's speech to the London School of Economics.

Not for the first time, the Tory leader attacked Gordon Brown's management of the public sector finances over the past decade. His criticisms were well made. If Mr Brown, as Chancellor, had run a surplus, rather than a deficit in the boom years, Britain would be much better placed going into this almighty downturn. But the problem, in political terms, is that this is an argument about the past. What really matters is the question of what the Conservatives would do differently from the Government in the present and the future.

Here is where it gets interesting. Mr Cameron is firmly opposed to Mr Brown's attempt to stimulate the economy by cutting VAT. Further, the Tories have gone back on their pledge to match Labour's spending plans after the next election. Finally, Mr Cameron says that, were his party in power, it would begin to cut public spending now in order to offset some of the spiralling public debt levels.

This certainly gives voters a clear choice. And there can be no doubt that the Government is embarking on a considerable gamble by letting the public deficit balloon in this way. There can be no guarantee that international investors will continue to want to buy up the Treasury bonds that finance government spending. Nor can there be any certainty that the hoped-for boost to public confidence from the VAT cut will be more powerful than public fears of painful tax rises scheduled for after the next election.

But Mr Cameron's approach also raises some tricky questions. Would sucking money out of the economy in the depths of a recession, by cutting spending, really be the most sensible course, no matter how much waste there is in the public sector? And then there is the question of where the spending axe would fall? So far the Conservatives have been evasive on this front. But the detail is crucial. Making efficiency savings is always easier in theory than in practice.

The Tories also need to beware the dangers of an overly parochial approach to what is, after all, a global downturn. Mr Cameron has repeatedly criticised the Government's fiscal stimulus, citing the implications for national debt levels. But will Mr Cameron mount the same criticism of the massive stimulus package expected from the Obama administration early next year in America? The Conservatives say that a fiscal stimulus is only a good idea if a country can afford it. But America has substantially greater public debt levels, in proportion to its GDP, than Britain. What is irresponsible in London is surely, irresponsible in Washington. The Conservatives need to do a better job of explaining their thinking here.

These are not mere academic questions. Recent polls have suggested that David Cameron and George Osborne are still not regarded as more competent than Mr Brown and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, to steer Britain through this economic turmoil. Credibility is important. The Conservatives have made progress in explaining their prescription for Britain's economic woes. But they still have further to travel.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Cover Supervisor for school in Leeds

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Sure, teenage girls need role models – but not of the Zoella kind

Chloe Hamilton
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album