It’s nine years since that saunter through the rose garden of Downing Street. A curious bonhomie was on show that sunny day in May 2010.
The coalition had a stab at fiscal retrenchment. Adjusting for inflation, total managed expenditure fell by £5 billion between 2009-10 and 2014-15, from £824 billion to £819 billion. That’s a 0.6 per cent decline. The personal allowance was also raised substantially, and continued to rise this year to £12,500. Cuts in corporation tax have gone hand-in-hand with higher revenues, and a cut in the additional rate of income tax to 45 per cent has seen a similar effect for the exchequer.
But it also got a huge amount wrong. The gnawing corporatism of Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme has only served to exacerbate the housing crisis; taxpayers have indirectly contributed to some rather handsome bonuses for housebuilding bosses. His repeated allusions to fiscal prudence rang hollow: in real terms, the national debt increased by almost £500 billion during the coalition, and is set to rise to a total of £1.8 trillion this financial year. Plans for serious cuts in inheritance tax were also scrapped.
The Spending Plan, which we released in the run-up to the 2015 election, was published to give detailed proposals about how to reduce spending: the tax burden was growing, and the size of the state was firmly above 40 per cent of GDP. Politicians had paid lip service to less government for far too long. The Orange Book credentials of the Lib Dems quickly vanished with their splurge on “free” school meals for the children of wealthy parents. And the Tories remain wedded to some disastrous infrastructure projects, not least HS2.
Almost a decade on from that horticultural press conference, a lot more needs to be done. Seeing real change in how the state spends our cash is best achieved when there is real reform of the tax system too. Lower spending means lower taxes, less debt for families and faster growth.
We’ll work with any politician of any party to try and deliver this (rose garden or not).