Last Thursday I went to the Royal United Services Institute at 61 Whitehall to hear David Cameron do his debt crisis thing. I had been hoping, idly it seems, for some red meat. The essence of what Cameron said, see speech here, was that some hard choices will have to be made but fiscal responsibility needs a social conscience, or it is nothing.
Cameron is trying to blunt any possible Labour attacks that the Conservatives will “revert to type” once in government and that they will slash and burn their way through the public services.
Cameron is wise indeed to be wary. Whoever is returned after the next election will have to make some truly eye-watering changes to public spending. We are talking in the order of £100 billion here. Read “Bankrupt Britain” if you think I am exaggerating. Cameron knows this and so does Gordon Brown.
Gordon Brown invented Comprehensive Spending Reviews when he was chancellor in order to take a long term view and make spending decisions every two to three years. In the Observer today Andrew Rawnsley reports that:
A comprehensive spending review was due this summer. Gordon Brown has quietly told Alistair Darling to scrap it.
So the father of the Comprehensive Spending Review is quietly putting it to death so that he doesn’t have to face facts.
Maybe our politics over the next 18 months will be a poker game where Brown bluffs that we can carry on as we were once the storm has abated and whilst Cameron bluffs that merely controlling the expansion of the state will be enough to bring Government debt under control. I hope not. After the next election one of these men will have to come clean and admit that the public sector is going to have to be significantly curtailed. I hope that Cameron does it sooner rather than later.