Leading article: Pain, yes. But no to unfair cuts

Share
Related Topics

The nation is in crisis, filled with a sense of foreboding and starting to mourn, agonise and wring its hands. Not just for England's World Cup hopes, but for the Budget on Tuesday. Our ComRes opinion poll today suggests that the British people are braced for hard times. They know that sacrifices will have to be made and will accept them provided that the burden is shared fairly.

This newspaper agrees that taxes have to rise and public spending has to fall to balance the books, but our argument throughout the election campaign was that it could be counterproductive to cut too early. In this, we thought we were part of an anti-Conservative consensus against cuts in this financial year. One of the reasons why we urged anti-Tory tactical voting was because Labour and the Liberal Democrats seemed to agree that the cuts should be postponed for at least a year.

Indeed, we still believe that a relapse back into recession is possible if the stimulus is "too quickly withdrawn", as Barack Obama warns his fellow G8 leaders in a letter this weekend. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrat leadership, on the other hand, seem to have changed their minds. Curiously, this change seems to have occurred at precisely the moment when it seemed that ministerial jobs were on offer with the Conservatives, but that the parliamentary arithmetic made an alternative arrangement with the Labour Party rather awkward.

There is some evidence that the change took place even earlier. Ed Miliband, one of Labour's negotiating team in the inter-party talks that followed the inconclusive election result, tells The Independent on Sunday today that "one of the biggest sticking points" was the Liberal Democrats' "macho" insistence on cutting the deficit, "saying it needs to be now and it needs to be faster". It was reported yesterday that Vince Cable, now the Secretary of State for Business, did not agree during the election campaign with the Liberal Democrat policy of postponing cuts.

We are unconvinced by Mr Clegg and Mr Cable's explanation for the change of policy, namely that the Greek fiscal crisis, which saw riots on the streets of Athens on the day that Britain went to the polls, changed the balance of risk of sovereign default. We do not believe that a question of timing could make a significant difference to international confidence in the British Government's creditworthiness. So, either the Liberal Democrat leadership fought an election on a policy in which they did not wholly believe, or they quickly compromised the moment the perks of office were dangled before them.

Not that Conservative policy has been much more resolute. It was less than two years ago that the party promised to match Labour spending plans. Admittedly, circumstances then changed, and the Tories said that they would start the cuts as soon as they were elected. But then they lost their nerve during the election campaign and decided to cancel part of Labour's planned rise in National Insurance contributions and to pretend that this would be paid for by efficiency savings. Is it any wonder that some people, including many Conservatives, think that David Cameron's basic ideology is simply that of shrinking the state?

Regardless of how we got here, however, there is no doubt that in Tuesday's Budget the retrenchment will begin in earnest. The warm-up act last week of Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announcing cuts to programmes for which Labour had failed to identify funding, made that clear. Mr Alexander took to the task of cutting public spending with the same relish as David Laws but none of the intellectual stringency.

If it is going to happen it would be as well to do it well. This newspaper accepts that there are spending cuts that could be made, if considerations of Keynesian demand management were not a factor. But it is important that the burden of cuts should fall on those best able to bear it. It is notable that our opinion poll shows majority support for restricting child benefit for better-off families, and for income tax rises – that is, rises that take into account ability to pay, unlike rises in VAT.

When George Osborne sets out some of the tax rises that will be needed to help close the deficit in coming years, our stipulation is that they should be progressive and green. If the Liberal Democrats cannot secure at least those priorities on Tuesday, their members may begin to ask what the point is of the coalition. And their voters may begin to ask what the point is of the Liberal Democrats?

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Supply Chain Manager

Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innova...

Business Analyst - Horsham - Competitive Salary

Negotiable: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Business Analyst - Horsham, West Su...

Infrastructure Engineer

£28000 - £34000 per annum + excellent bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: In...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A young Palestinian boy walks over debris from a house that was destroyed in an airstrike in Deir Al Balah  

The Middle East debate has more to do with the fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics

James Bloodworth
 

The daily catch-up: what if Hillary sticks, drowning sorrows and open sesame

John Rentoul
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor