Arguments against cuts are increasingly threadbare

September 14, 2010 12:15 PM


100914 BBC London debate screenshot Last week, I took part in a BBC London debate about cuts in the capital, intervening in the debate twice.

First, Ken Livingstone made the ludicrous assertion that cuts were based on a lie, that we don't have an actual issue with the debt.  He argued that we had a higher debt after the Second World War.  It was disappointing to have to point out to him that after a war you traditionally stop fighting and cut spending massively as you don't have to buy Spitfires, artillery shells and all the other things needed to beat the Nazis.  His only response was to dodge the point by bashing the bankers.  Again, he misses the point, no banker forced politicians to drive up spending beyond what the country can afford and the bank bailout - while an awful risk with taxpayers' money that we should have done more to avoid - isn't the reason the public finances are in trouble.  You can skip to that exchange here.

Second, I intervened to respond to all those claiming that London was special, that it in particular shouldn't be subject to cuts.  Every region can construct some reason why it deserves special treatment but everyone needs to do their bit or the nation will be heading for bankruptcy.  What we need to do is be a bit more imaginative, and think of ways we can help those regions without spending more money.  As I suggested, what London needs is for government to get out of the way, scrap European regulations, green policies and other restrictions that are preventing the private sector growing and that it would cost nothing to abolish.  In other, poorer, regions excessive public spending is squeezing out the private sector and the last thing they need is even more spending.  You can skip to that intervention here.

A lot of the rest of the debate was dominated by various special interests making the case against cuts in their area.  Many of them had incredible stories to tell.  But in the end they all betrayed a continuing addiction to public money, and a refusal to think seriously about how we adapt to an environment in which there is a long term crisis in the public finances that makes high spending unaffordable.

What we need to do instead is think about how we can improve services without spending more money.  Many of the most emotive examples given in the debate were about education and school facilities.  John O'Connell wrote recently about New York's charter schools and how, with no more money, they have drastically improved educational standards.  That represents much better value than a Building Schools for the Future programme that everyone in the debate acknowledged was a bureaucratic nightmare.

Fortunately the public see sense on this issue.  Dominic Lawson has a brilliant article in the Independent today about how people up and down the income spectrum can see that they don't get value for money from public services, as the title puts it "rich and poor agree on cutting taxes".  That view wasn't represented by many people in the BBC London programme but it is the perspective that has rightly carried the day with ordinary Britons. 


100914 BBC London debate screenshot Last week, I took part in a BBC London debate about cuts in the capital, intervening in the debate twice.

First, Ken Livingstone made the ludicrous assertion that cuts were based on a lie, that we don't have an actual issue with the debt.  He argued that we had a higher debt after the Second World War.  It was disappointing to have to point out to him that after a war you traditionally stop fighting and cut spending massively as you don't have to buy Spitfires, artillery shells and all the other things needed to beat the Nazis.  His only response was to dodge the point by bashing the bankers.  Again, he misses the point, no banker forced politicians to drive up spending beyond what the country can afford and the bank bailout - while an awful risk with taxpayers' money that we should have done more to avoid - isn't the reason the public finances are in trouble.  You can skip to that exchange here.

Second, I intervened to respond to all those claiming that London was special, that it in particular shouldn't be subject to cuts.  Every region can construct some reason why it deserves special treatment but everyone needs to do their bit or the nation will be heading for bankruptcy.  What we need to do is be a bit more imaginative, and think of ways we can help those regions without spending more money.  As I suggested, what London needs is for government to get out of the way, scrap European regulations, green policies and other restrictions that are preventing the private sector growing and that it would cost nothing to abolish.  In other, poorer, regions excessive public spending is squeezing out the private sector and the last thing they need is even more spending.  You can skip to that intervention here.

A lot of the rest of the debate was dominated by various special interests making the case against cuts in their area.  Many of them had incredible stories to tell.  But in the end they all betrayed a continuing addiction to public money, and a refusal to think seriously about how we adapt to an environment in which there is a long term crisis in the public finances that makes high spending unaffordable.

What we need to do instead is think about how we can improve services without spending more money.  Many of the most emotive examples given in the debate were about education and school facilities.  John O'Connell wrote recently about New York's charter schools and how, with no more money, they have drastically improved educational standards.  That represents much better value than a Building Schools for the Future programme that everyone in the debate acknowledged was a bureaucratic nightmare.

Fortunately the public see sense on this issue.  Dominic Lawson has a brilliant article in the Independent today about how people up and down the income spectrum can see that they don't get value for money from public services, as the title puts it "rich and poor agree on cutting taxes".  That view wasn't represented by many people in the BBC London programme but it is the perspective that has rightly carried the day with ordinary Britons. 

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