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

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred

Simon Danczuk
 

The epic mug battle is only the latest in a cheap set of campaign gimmicks set to define this election

Nash Riggins
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor