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Ruth Porter: The public increasingly understands that the cuts are necessary - so the Government should not be timid about going further

Picture 14 Ruth Porter is Communications Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Watching coverage at the weekend of Ed Miliband’s speech and the associated march, one could be forgiven for thinking the Government’s cuts programme was as unpopular as the Iraq war. In fact the latest ICM poll has 57% supporting the Coalition on the idea that cuts are necessary and 29% suggesting the cuts aren’t going far enough. Public support for the idea that the cuts are going too far is dropping off. Given the media’s consistent scaremongering and misrepresentation of the scale of the cuts, these numbers are remarkable.

The launch last week of Channel 4’s Cutsmap for people to tell stories of how cuts are affecting them in their region is a perfect example of only telling one side of the story. Where is the corresponding map showing where the debt was racked up over years of government overspending? Or the map that shows where the children, who will be paying that debt back, live? The BBC has failed to report even-handedly about the true situation of Britain’s finances; constantly using slanted language designed to pitch savings in government expenditure as cuts and present these cuts as taking money out of the economy.

The Coalition hasn’t helped itself. They’ve been sucked into the debate in the terms the media has presented it. But the fact remains that all the cuts programme does, is get public spending back to 2007 levels – 45% of GDP is still a huge proportion and means this Parliament will have continued to add to the national debt, which is (including pensions liabilities) somewhere close to £5 trillion. 

The two most compelling arguments for cuts are:
  1. The moral case – that successive governments have (with democratic mandate) spent more money than they could afford, stacking up a debt that may well take generations to pay off.
  2. The economic case – that creating public spending at such high levels has damaged our economy by taking money from the private sector and hampering economic growth, whilst simultaneously pushing us towards models of centralised public service delivery that in areas like education and health have provided demonstrably bad outcomes.

Both these points are compelling ones and it’s not clear from the polling which argument is drawing people towards the Coalition’s side of the argument; perhaps both. What is clear is that on both points those 29% who argue the cuts haven’t gone far enough are speaking sense. The support for cuts in this poll should encourage the Government to go further. But so too should the fact that 48% of people expect the Budget to have no effect on economic growth.

The argument on cuts is now one for the Government to lose, and the lack of public confidence in the Government’s ability to create an environment that fosters growth is a worry. Winning the economic case on cuts is almost entirely dependent on the Government showing that it understands what it can and must do to get out of the way and allow the private sector to deliver on growth. The challenge for the Coalition now is to talk that 48% of people round, and this requires further cuts to create the radical tax reform that can help with growth. The Government needs to be clear about this.

It is almost unbelievable that in defiance of the slanted coverage the media has given to the issue of cuts that so many have seen through the spin and understood the reality of the scale of the problem Britain faces. Despite the Coalition overstating the scale of the cuts, the message has got through that they are necessary. Well, the message now must be that the private sector, businesses or all shapes and sizes and from all sectors are the only place growth can come from. The media no doubt will continue to make it hard to communicate the message, but at the moment the Coalition is doing nothing to help itself. 29% of people want more cuts, 57% of people understand the need for cuts, but 48% of people think the Budget won’t help growth.

The Coalition's failing is not that it is being too brave. It is that it is being too timid.


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