Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron announces today that deep cuts in public expenditure “will change British life”. They will in short be the most drastic public spending cuts in a generation. In truth, the cuts are already biting, and within a fortnight of assuming office, the new coalition government announced some £6 billion in cuts, with far more to come in the autumn. This marked an abrupt end to the previous Government’s policy, which was for Britain to spend its way out of a crisis in the hope that this might avoid a double dip recession. Cameron’s announcement today seems more likely to make that double dip recession a reality.
Cameron’s Deputy, Nick Clegg, fought the election as a Liberal Democrat opposing the immediate £6 billion in cuts, but now he says blithely that these will be “progressive cuts”, progressive in the political sense you understand, not in the literal sense of more to come. Clegg believes that by sugaring the pill in political non sequiturs designed to hoodwink the Middle Class, they will forgive him his about face. My prediction made at the birth of this hybrid coalition remains; this will shortly become the most reviled administration in living memory.
In future Government Ministers will have to present the case for their Departmental spending plans to a new ‘Star Chamber’, of Ministerial and civil servant heavyweights. David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne are to model this on the Canadian experiment pioneered by Jean Chretien, who was credited for taking Canada from deficit to surplus by slashing federal budgets by 20%.
Already raising eyebrows is the apparent decision to line up the former boss of BP, Lord Browne to advise the Government on private sector practices for the public sector, in order to slash costs. Browne famously left BP in 2007 after having been found lying in the High Court and while running BP presiding over a number of high profile accidents in the United States, including the Texas City refinery fire, in which 15 people died. Although Browne was not personally responsible for the deaths, many in America will no doubt be interested that BP’s record ran before it presided over deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, although Browne can’t be held responsible for the blow out which is engulfing the Southern States in thick black globules of oil, and many Americans are justifiably furious at the insouciance of BP, has anyone noticed the current deafening silence from the more than usually loquacious “Drill, baby, drill”, Sarah Palin? Just a thought.
In any event the British Government’s love affair with big business is not so very different from that of the last. And there is a curious familiarity to all of this. The Government believes that the private sector offers best practice for the public sector, in fact for at least two generations, Britain has been governed largely in the interest of one part of the private sector, the banks and building societies, which largely fashioned and them took advantage of the de-regulated, laissez fair policies that have nearly bankrupted the country. Now those still in work, and especially those working in the public sector are going to spend the next decade either working to pay off the deficit caused by those same banks, or be unemployed.