October 2, 2009


Hug 'em close: How big is Gordon Brown's “big choice” really? (Bagehot, Oct 1st 2009, The Economist)

The headline message was that Britain faces a “big choice” election, like those of 1945 (after which the modern welfare state was created) and 1979 (won by Margaret Thatcher). [...]

The principal debate is no longer about “Labour investment versus Tory cuts”. It is Labour cuts versus Tory cuts. Minister after minister gave warning this week about the inner axe-murderer who would be unleashed should David Cameron become prime minister, to set about massacring teachers and nurses. Labour’s savings, they claimed, would come from “efficiencies” and magically disposable “lower-priority budgets”. There is indeed a disagreement about when the cutting should begin; further contrasts may be drawn in the government’s pre-budget report later this autumn. But the blood-curdling warnings cannot disguise the essential symmetry of the two parties’ positions.

Then there are the vows to keep government fiscally honest. Mr Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor, announced plans for a “fiscal-responsibility act” that would make reducing the deficit a legal requirement. Meanwhile, and notwithstanding their professed desire to liquidate quangos as a class, the Tories have proposed to set up a new one to monitor the public finances. One is a watchdog and the other is a law, but both are macho bids to demonstrate seriousness about Britain’s debt burden.

Perhaps the main policy theme of Mr Brown’s own speech was what is clunkingly known as “antisocial behaviour”. He advanced various schemes for dealing with “chaotic families”, teenage mothers and problem boozers. The Tories have a name for this set of problems too: they call it the “broken society”. Mr Brown’s team eschews that crassly denigrating vocabulary, but they evidently feel a need to match the Tories’ emphasis on social dysfunction. Another big target for Mr Brown was bankers and their bonuses. The Tories have also called for bonus restraint, and for the tumbrels to cart financial miscreants out of the City.

The choice is which party can best be trusted to continue Thatcherism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2009 2:14 PM
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