John Redwood, the unreconstructed Thatcherite and leading Conservative, thinks we should be cutting about 20% off total public spending. Redwood is not in the current Shadow Cabinet, but is Chairman of their Economic Competitiveness Policy Group, and clearly still influential.
And his logic is impeccable – not surprising for someone often mockingly described as a Vulcan.
If the Tories are to implement their new-found fiscal conservatism and ‘balance the books’ then this is the order of magnitude of cuts that would have to be made. Redwood even asserts that the first 10% could be made relatively painlessly – which just goes to prove he really is from another planet.
What would 10% – never mind 20% – real-terms cuts to public spending look like? It is roughly the equivalent of 500,000 public sector jobs if evenly spread across all spending. Or you could be more selective and close down half the health service – but that would entail about 600,000 or more jobs. Or maybe you could just cut the whole social security budget – but that would only get you about 5% -halfway to Mr Redwood’s ‘painless’ target of 10%.
Just double all of those numbers to get some idea of what 20% cuts would look like. Redwood claims the public would support such cuts – they probably do when asked in the abstract by pollsters. But as soon as the cuts were translated into the inevitable school and hospital closures, a return to long health waiting lists and massive job losses, Mr Redwood would find that fiscal conservatism wouldn’t be quite as popular as he seems to think it will be.
So far the Tories have talked about puny areas of savings like quango-chiefs pay, MPs expenses and public sector pay and pensions generally. But none of this would put much of a dent in the public deficit. When are the Press going to get around to demanding of Messrs Cameron and Osborne – how much will you cut and where? Is John Redwood reflecting the real thinking going on behind closed doors, or is he just getting in an early audition for a part in Star Trek 12? We should be told.