Leading article: Mr Osborne's case for cuts by consent

Share
Related Topics

It was with the three words "Education, education, education" that the architect of New Labour first defined his priorities in government. By the time Tony Blair left office, a jaded public was more likely to be heard muttering "Presentation, presentation, presentation". The lavish use of "spin" to control the message rebounded on the Labour government in a very big way, creating a climate of deep and corrosive distrust between power and people.

Thirteen years on, it is perhaps not surprising that a government headed by two men who have spent a part of their working lives in public relations so clearly appreciates the need to prepare the ground before elaborating unpopular measures. Nor is it surprising, with the example of New Labour so fresh, that the coalition is going about it in a very different way. As the Chancellor, George Osborne, set out his intentions yesterday, the idea is for a "collective discussion" involving as many sectors and individuals as possible, to meet what he described as the "great national challenge of our generation" – getting Britain to live within its means.

Now it may be that ministers, from the Prime Minister down, are painting the financial situation in more apocalyptic colours than strictly necessary in the hope that the emergency Budget will be received with sighs of relief. But we cannot, and should not, bank on that. The figures for the country's indebtedness speak for themselves. If, as David Cameron said earlier this week, Britain stands to be paying £70bn in debt interest within five years, that is, as he said, "a terrible, terrible waste of money" and a liability to be shrunk as swiftly and substantially as possible. To this end, the coalition's new and thoroughly welcome themes are transparency and participation. Winding up the debate on the Queen's Speech in the Commons, Mr Osborne introduced the criteria the Government would use for establishing value for money and set out a timetable for what is being described as "a period of external engagement between the Government and all parts of society", and that includes the general public.

It is easy to be cynical about such efforts. Experience of broad consultation exercises suggests that they can soon descend into futility at one end of the scale, or become fig-leaves for politicians to slough off responsibility for difficult decisions at the other. And those who forecast that the consultation process could cost more money than it saves may in the end be vindicated. But the Government's stated desire to open up the process and harness as wide a constituency as possible to an evolving austerity drive designed almost as a national crusade does not deserve a knee-jerk rejection.

The Government has done at least some of its homework, studying how other countries, such as Canada, managed to slash their debts. And its apparent determination to reassess the justification for all aspects of public spending, rather than identifying familiar targets or trimming across the board, is promising and something only a new government can do. It is hard to escape the impression that at least some parts of government spending have become ritualised and flabby. The question that has to be answered is which.

There are, of course, risks in this approach. One – already evident from internet chat-rooms – is popular suspicion that the Chancellor's only purpose is to spread the blame and pass the buck. Another is that the "national discussion" could turn divisive, as one group tries to save itself at the expense of others. We hope these risks can be avoided. For while it is true that taking difficult decisions is what we elect governments for, those decisions will be far more palatable if the rationale for them is clear and the widest possible range of views has been heard. This is why it is in everyone's interests that, at least for now, Mr Osborne's invitation should be accepted in good faith.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week