Conservative Diary

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The budget gives a measure of protection to Michael Gove

Michael Gove happy We knew before yesterday that the two Andrews - Lansley and Mitchell - are winners (as their Departments would see it) when it comes to spending cuts.

On health, the Coalition Agreement says: "We will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms in each year of the Parliament, while recognising the impact this decision will have on the other departments."

On international development, it says: "We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law."

Other Governments departments are to face reductions of £17 billon by 2014/15 - an average of 25 per cent over four years.

This headline figure suggests that the pain will be equally shared.  Not so.  George Osborne said yesterday that he recognises "particular pressures" on education and defence spending.

I suspect that this is a code for two beliefs shared in Downing Street and the Treasury.

First, that the Prime Minister and Chancellor recognise that it would be fatal to break the military covenant, as Labour did. Neither want to see our armed forces under-equipped (though the Treasury believes that some Ministry of Defence budgets are out of control, and there will be huge change). Both will be desperate to avoid a destabilising row over the defence review with their backbenchers, not to mention the Defence Secretary.

Second, that they see Free Schools as the Government's flagship policy, and recognise that money's needed to oil its wheels: new schools with new pupils, after all, mean new commitments and new spending. Although these look to be offset by savings from local authority bureaucracy and the closure of unpopular schools, there are bound to be short-term financial pressures.

There are bound to be ferocious battles between the Treasury and individual departments, but the Chancellor seems to recognise that the Conservative Party will always have special sensitivities on defence, and that the Free Schools policy is seen both on the Tory backbenches and in many places elsewhere as a symbol of radical hope.  

Paul Goodman


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