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The point of Osborne’s scalpel
To govern is to choose. For nine years, Gordon Brown delayed choosing between higher taxes or lower spending, which is why the last time he balanced the government’s books was 2001–02. Since then, we have been building up to the spending cuts announced this week. No matter who won the election, there would have been cuts. Labour’s figures suggested they intended to cut departmental budgets by only marginally less than George Osborne has done.There is no great ideological divide between the parties on the total amount of cuts, so let us dispense with any pretence to the contrary.
The Chancellor deserves credit on several fronts. He has stuck to the pace of cuts laid out in the Budget, and limited the impact on defence and education. He has done his best to protect infrastructure — vital for a business recovery — and lowered his axe at the burgeoning public-sector payroll. The newspaper headlines may speak of 500,000 public-sector job cuts over the four years, but the same unreported forecasts suggest that 1.5 million new jobs will be created over the same period.The purpose of the cuts is to create more jobs, and better-paid jobs.
Osborne was also right to point out that the amount paid in debt interest — £63 billion — is lower as a result of his being more ambitious in his spending reforms. This is a tangible benefit of austerity. Confidence in Britain’s economic future has lowered the cost of government borrowing, helping to secure the supply of cheap credit on which the tentative economic recovery depends. And it is working. The economy is creating jobs faster than the government will cut jobs: the result is more jobs, less poverty and quicker recovery. This, again, is the purpose of cuts.
The Chancellor has recovered as best he could from the error made in the general election campaign: his promise to protect the National Health Service budget. He was dealt the worst imaginable hand by Gordon Brown, but the cuts on defence, policing and prisons are greater as a result, due to his calculation that the NHS, the department which grew the most over the last ten years, is the only one where efficiencies cannot be found. The result is the unusual sight of a country at war taking £2.4 billion away from the military, and adding it to the overseas aid budget.
Mr Osborne was chosen as the Tories’ shadow chancellor at a time when all seemed calm in the financial world. He has found himself at the centre of an economic war. He should take advantage of the tumult to set the terms of debate, and break free of Labour’s intellectual framework. No good can come of using Labour’s definition of fairness. His continued bank-bashing, evident again in this week’s speech, is unbecoming of a Chancellor who should be the champion of Britain’s world-class financial sector. Bankers may be the easiest political target, but the tax they generate is Britain’s best hope of reviving corporation tax revenues.
In his response to the spending review statement, Alan Johnson unwittingly demonstrated that Labour no longer has a message on the economy. Mr Osborne has now set the financial agenda for the next four years, so the bulk of his job as Chancellor has been done. All that remains is to give a few updates. So he should busy himself with a no less important task: making the case for fiscal conservatism, and showing how it leads to more jobs and less poverty. We are embarked upon a plausible route back to fiscal sanity. Mr Osborne did not quite win the election. But he can — if he is bold — now win the argument.
Stranded at the altar P
ity the ambitious women priests of the Church of England. Every time they seem about to seize the bishop’s mitre, their opponents trip them up.
Earlier this year the General Synod accepted that reform was right in principle and aspiring lady bishops were cocka-hoop. They hoped that the pull from Rome would help as well: if the more conservative faction all jumped ship, they reasoned, surely that would leave them and their male supporters free to run the Church unhindered?
But the C of E is moving in mysterious ways. When Bishop John Broadbent of Fulham announced this week that he would be crossing the Tiber, it inspired not a sigh of relief from liberals, but a reactionary swing within the Church.A new evangelical and traditionalist alliance seems to be forming. The Vatican’s decision to declare the ordination of women a ‘grave crime’ must have provoked murmurs of agreement within the C of E. There’s bad news from across the Atlantic as well: female prelates in America have seen their attendance numbers fall.
Poor women clergy. It’s difficult to deny that they have a point: once you’ve allowed women priests, what real reason can there be for withholding the mitre? But though logic may be on their side, luck has evaded them, leaving them once again in limbo.
the spectator | 23 October 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk