Leading article: Mr Osborne should prepare a Plan B

Related Topics

The unions are gathering for their annual conference this morning in fighting mood. The TUC chief, Brendan Barber, warns of a winter of mass protests if George Osborne and David Cameron don't back down on the scale of their planned cuts. The police are raising the spectre of a Christmas crime wave if their numbers are cut by 25 per cent, as the Government has indicated is likely.

As the Chancellor completes the full spending review, due out in October, he may feel tempted to dismiss this as scare tactics and special pleading. There is nothing new about unions insisting in a Cassandra-like fashion that any reductions in staffing levels will cause a national catastrophe. Moreover, the unions today are a shadow of what they were in the late 1970s, when they were strong enough to bring the country to a halt in the so-called "winter of discontent".

Those considerations, however, should not tempt the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition into complacency, or to dismissing what the unions have to say. Until now, the Coalition has enjoyed an extended honeymoon with the electorate. It is fortunate for them that the Labour Party has been almost entirely preoccupied with its leadership battle. For its part, the public still appears to go along with the broad thrust of the Government's message, which is that the country has been living beyond its means and cannot carry on spending at the same levels as before.

But this relative equanimity towards the prospect of cuts may not last far into autumn. At the moment there is an air of a phoney war about what is happening, because although the word "cuts" is bandied around endlessly, relatively few people have actually been affected by them. This mood may change sharply in October when the spending review comes out and the full scale of reductions is revealed.

So far, the Government's response to union and Labour criticism of its policies has been to stick to the Thatcherite mantra: There Is No Alternative (TINA). But the public will only support this idea if the results are both prompt and beneficial. If the savage wielding of the surgeon's knife delivers a rapid recovery to the nation's finances, Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne will have pulled off their bold gamble. But if deep cuts have the same results in Britain that they appear to have had in Ireland, pushing the country deeper into recession, support for Mr Osborne's policies will collapse.

The Government will then be in serious trouble, not only with the unions – whose apocalyptic warnings of disaster will have proved prophetic – but with members of its own ranks. Many Liberal Democrat MPs hold seats in areas that will be hit hard over the coming months. Their patience with a strategy of TINA will run out if it looks as if the communities they represent are being sacrificed on the altar of ideology.

We must hope that the Chancellor does not turn out to be an economic fundamentalist, entirely committed to the pursuit of a single strategy after it has become clear that it isn't working.

It is, of course, incorrect to claim that there is no alternative to the Government's chosen path, even if Labour, with the recent exception of Ed Balls, has not been particularly good at articulating the other options. We could look hard and immediately for real economies, while maintaining public spending and holding off making drastic cuts until the recovery is stronger, just as Barack Obama's administration in the United States is doing.

It may be good politics to insist in public that there is only one way, but in private the Chancellor would do well to at least start considering Plan B.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit