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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own