What is the next Conservative government going to achieve? When it gets into power in May 2010, it will be confronted with the worst public finances since the late Seventies; with North Sea oil running out and an incessant Scottish demand that what is left is Scotland’s alone; with the great financial engine that is the City hamstrung by new regulation and denuded of talent by a flight of the major players to domiciles with less vampiric tax policies; and with increased demands for welfare and insatiate expectations for public service provision.
To counter this I see no coherent strategy, no plan B, no purpose, except the orderly management of inevitable decline. All that has been suggested is incremental change, cutting “waste”, tidying up. We cannot afford to raise taxes; the UK now has the fifth highest marginal tax rates in Europe. The public sector has been bloated by Brown and most of the money has been wasted.
But even if it were all justifiably and competently spent, we still can’t afford it. The temptation will be to cut back expenditure across the board. 10% from every department. If so, the first few years are going to be bloody, arguing budgetary austerity line by line with Labour and the Left revivified by having someone they can legitimately attack. Every cut will be a Conservative cut, every contraction a Conservative job loss.
Is there a way out? Can we turn regretted necessity into desirable policy?