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A Westmininster view

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The loudest sound to be heard in the confines of Westminster is that of knives being sharpened.

All three main parties have woken up to the reality that spending cuts have to be made, though, admittedly, this harsh reality has dawned on some quicker than others. The debate is now being framed not on who will do the butchery but who will be the most deft butcher.

Labour, having come late to the party after Gordon Brown was finally convinced that the hackneyed argument of investment versus cuts will no longer wash with an electorate which was at best dubious about this message at the 2005 election, is now trying to persuade voters that the choice is between the non-intrusive surgery at the hands of Dr Alistair Darling or the indiscriminate hacking supposedly being relished by “Slasher” George Osborne.

The Lib Dems, the perennial gooseberries of British politics, are also ready to wield the scalpel.

Now a consensus has been reached that cuts have to be made, the question turns to what to axe and how quickly. Speed, as Lady Macbeth will tell you, is crucial. There is little doubt that for the Conservatives if spending is to be constrained it is best done quickly.

It is politically beneficial for David Cameron to inflict the pain sooner rather than later in his premiership - should, as expected, he wins the election.

Only the Treasury could be said to be salivating at the Tory plans - they are the ones who will have the challenge of implementing them

Jason Beattie, deputy editor of The Mirror

This will allow him both to blame any cuts on the previous administration but also to get the public to swallow the medicine before they realise, come the next polling day, that it may contain a nasty aftertaste.

The Lib Dems have come to a similar conclusion and also wish to balance the books within five years.

Labour is playing a longer game, believing that public services are so central to its core beliefs that balancing the books should take place over at least eight years in order to keep some spending on front-line services.

There are also clear differences over what should be cut. And it is here that the Tories are most likely to give nightmares to anyone who works in the public sector.
Mr Cameron has been astute in refusing to spell out precisely what his party intends to cut - why allow the opposition an easy goal in the run up to the election? - so we can only hazard at his true intentions.

But we do know that regional development agencies, state pensions, quangos and various welfare payments are in the Conservative sights.

Of all the Whitehall departments only the Treasury could be said to be salivating at the Tory plans - they are the ones who will have the challenge of implementing them. For the rest of the spending departments the view ahead is one of undiluted misery.

Nor has local government much to smile about. Not only is Communities and Local Government one of the easiest departments politically to target but it will be councils who will have to take up the slack left by the demise of the regional development agencies and quangos while at the same time having to make their own efficiency savings.

Jason Beattie, deputy political editor ofThe Mirror


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