Will the coalition cuts stick?

The diary comments of an anonymous “senior civil servant” may be the bleat of on old school fuddy duddy who can’t stand change and has decided to behave badly. And yet they ring true – especially after the warning that came from no less than Tony Blair last week, that new ministers without any previous experience have to learn the job better and spend a lot more time on policy. There is a fundamental dilemma between adopting the “100 days” strategy to hit the ground running and the caution that was in fact chosen by Blair-Brown in 1997.

 For the coalition though, the problem is far more serious than in Labour’s new dawn. That was an era of cautiously expanding opportunity. This is a time of austerity. And coalition  policies are an amalgam of compromise pulled together in under a week.

At the top, the coalition looks comfortable. But after less than 10 weeks, the question is starting to be asked: Can they make the cuts stick? If not, then what? Rebellion is momentarily focused on the administrative fiasco of Michael Gove’s cuts in the English school building programme, yet another NHS reorganisation based on GPs this time, and the wobbles in the intellectual rationale for the cuts, as explained by the supposedly independent new Office of Budgetary Responsibility. But this is only the tip of huge iceberg.


The presence of the prime minister was intended as a morale boost. His words were warm, but lacked substance. One colleague said he was just like Tony Blair, but with shinier skin and better teeth. Cameron meant well, but it was clear that he hadn’t the faintest idea what a civil servant does, or the daily dilemmas we face

I can’t escape the feeling that all our dynamism and creativity – so long targeted at the problems in our society – has been turned inward. Vast systems have been built to freeze spending and implement cuts. They are sucking everyone in. This is a turning point in our island history.

I have noted since the election that Conservative ministers seem very relaxed. I, like many others, interpreted this as confidence and competence. After last week, it started to look like naivety and arrogance. The gaffes were piling up and forming an edifice of stupidity. Ministers called to the Commons to apologise; Hillsborough survivors insulted; Jamie Oliver criticised; the Speaker called a stupid sanctimonious dwarf; school building programmes announced and then scrapped. It was a litany of carelessness and sloppiness, a series of avoidable own goals that illustrated a lack of preparation, a lack of seriousness and the failure to appreciate what it is to govern a country.

This comes at perhaps the most dangerous three weeks for many years. At the end of July, parliament will break for the summer, not to return until September. In the next three weeks, a series of monumental decisions will be taken that will dictate the course of our politics for years to come.


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  • Munsterview

    So; the average Government Minister cannot run their department and do not know what they are doing !

    And this is News?

  • Cynic

    Gove had announced that the quango making a shambles of schools building would be abolished ….then they give him documents riddled with errors.

    We can but speculate why a body charged with spending £225m of our money didn’t seem to know what schools it was / was not contractually bound to build – a fairly fundamental issue of control one might think – but Gove’s response was clear. He apologised and said that as Minister he took accountability for what went wrong. Now he should act to prevent future errors by sacking the senior managers concerned and finding all those who through malice or incompetence fed him fails information. They too should go – perhaps the Labour party will employ them.

    Incidentally, Any Answers on Radio 4 yesterday was interesting. Two managers from Construction firms called in. One pointed out that the Government has been spending on average £27m per new secondary school building but the industry norm for buildings of this size / type would be about £10m to £15m a pop. It was a joke in the industry the extent o which the Government have been ripped off. Another pointed out one of the reasons why. He had just worked on a new school in London. It was a fantastic modernist design with a roof and one wall completely sheathed in copper and other walls faced with the finest quality wooden panels. Looked beautiful, cost and arm and a leg to build. Our money has simply been squandered by the last lot and children will suffer for this for the next 30 years.

    As for the speaker – he is a sanctimonious little dwarf who simply does not command respect and has to try and bully to get it.

  • Drumlin Rock

    ” Hillsborough survivors insulted; Jamie Oliver criticised; the Speaker called a stupid sanctimonious dwarf;”

    Are these matters actually important? they are worth a ha ha, & tut tut, but are certainly not how you should be judging a government, the schools building prog. anouncement was a proper cock up and the minister and/or officials deserve a ballsing, but the arguments should be on the proposals not on how they were announced.

  • Framer

    Civil servants were constantly asked by Blair and Brown to come up with new schemes of any type to prove government was governing. They all involved spending and regulation and were thus good things.

    Now they have all to be dismantled and after that many civil servants will become redundant. Nothing new is required of them.

    Some will be disgruntled especially if redundancy money is cut from three years salary to one.

  • Many of us are waiting for the lemmings to realise they have cleared the cliff.

    Or, as the suicide said, as he passed the tenth-storey window: “Well, it’s OK so far!”

    That’s when the screams begin, the polls turn, and the ConDem backbenches visibly blanch.

    Rawnsley in today’s Observer scents:

    The furore about Michael Gove’s cuts to the school rebuilding programme is a foretaste of what lies ahead …

    The reductions to the school building programme amount to a saving of only £1bn a year. I say only because, while that sounds like a big sum to anyone who is not Bill Gates, it is a microscopic fraction of the global total of cuts planned by the coalition …

    This relatively tiny cut impacting on a very small proportion of the public has handed ammunition to the opposition, aroused much agitation on the government’s own side, and forced two apologies from one of the key members of the cabinet. You do not need much imagination to see the opposition that will confront the coalition when they start to implement the big cuts which will impact on large numbers of voters.

    The turbulence around the education secretary is but a light squall compared to the dark tornadoes of trouble coming over the horizon.

    That is the reason for those forebodings about the next three weeks, as parliament winds down to the summer recess (and the backroom boys then crank up for the Autumn spending review).

    What is showing already is government by arrogance. Whether Cynic @3:10PM likes it or not, the list of cancellations went out under the letter-head and over the signature of Gove. He got it wrong, not just on a line-by-line basis, but with three serial “corrections”. Quite properly, tomorrow he is up before the beak, and his own irate back-benchers. Moreover, it is a blatantly partisan exercise, as Simon Rogers, in the the Guardian’s Data Blog, evidenced [http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jul/08/school-building-projects-constituency-list]:
    * 103 of Labour’s 258 seats, with 57.2% of the axed projects, are affected;
    * 83 of the Tory’s 306 seats, with 36.7% of the cuts,
    * 14 of the 57 LibDem seats, with 5.9% of the cuts.

    Slice it on local authority control (where the Tories have a massive preponderance) and the imbalance is even more striking.

    And, sure, isn’t it great to know (thanks to Simon Walters in the Mail, dishing the dirt) that one Tory missed the budget vote because he was too drunk to stand, another was offensive to a Commons officer because she, too, was over the eight, while ‘MPs old enough to know better were all over the Sloane Rangers who have come to work here as secretaries and researchers since David Cameron got in.’

    By the way, I reckon the cliff is reached at around 5 pm on Monday, 1st November: going-home time the day after the clocks go back.

  • Cynic


    Its not a question of who signed the letter. The Minister was misled or even set up by officials. They should be sacked.

    As for the dis-proportionality of the cuts, I am not surprised at all> Where did Labour plan to spend the money it didn’t have / make the promises to? How many do you think went to Tory potential Tory seats as opposed to Labour ones?

    But you are right – this is just a foretaste of what’s to come but the Coalition cannot afford to blink – they don’t have a blinking option – there is no money left, its been all been spent and now we have to pay it back before the bailiffs arrive!

  • willis

    What is it with deaf ideologically driven Education Ministers? I thought we had cornered the market.

  • Let’s critique Cynic @ 5:53 PM:

    Paragraph 1: tough. Don’t pass the buck. If he didn’t read, didn’t understand, didn’t check the list, it’s still Gove’s fault. Funnily enough, I don’t recall the “It wasn’t me, Gov[e], honest!” excuse being a valid ‘get-out-of-gaol-free’ card before early May. We must have become less “cynical” these days.

    Paragraph 2: whataboutery and rhodomontade. The string of rhetorical questions is a dead give-away.

    Paragraph 3: Everyone from the IMF and the US Treasury down doesn’t agree with that. There are other options. Repeat: UK Treasury bonds have an average life of 14 years, and are still selling at a very competitive interest ticket: that combination is unique in the western world.

    This government is cutting ruthlessly because that’s what Tories do. Then getting Budd and his OBR (remarkably close to Private Eye‘s OBN (look it up) to fix the “figures”. When this lot have re-enacted FDR’s miscalculation of 1937, and Japan’s over a decade, the message will be understood by even the most fawning and uncynical.

  • Cynic

    Lets critique Malcolm at 7.22pm

    Paragraph 1 – thinking that a Minister can personally cross check the detail of over 250 schools programmes either shows a lack of understanding of how any large organisation can work or is simply malicious. My original points stand

    Paragraph 2 – waffle. We have seen in EVERY area from ‘investment’ in schools, the NHS, industry and the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries that Labour was offering sweeties to Labour held or marginal seats in a desperate attempt to bribe themselves back in to power. Every promise, every lie and every trick in the book was sued.

    Paragraph 3 – total nonsense. You are out of date. The bottom line is nationally we are broke and need to fix the budget. That means both raising taxes and cutting expenditure. Labour alone had promised to cut £20bn but made no provision for what they might cut.

    Paragraph 4You attempt to link OBR to OBN is infantile

  • A further critique of Cynic @ 11:25 PM:

    Paragraph 1: On that basis, Nixon was innocent, OK.

    Once upon a time (who now remembers Tommy Dugdale and Crichel Down) it was clear cut: ministers were and were seen to be responsible. Carrington, an honourable man, walked the plank over the Falklands. It was Farmer Jim Prior who broke the mould, only a year later, when three dozen IRA men went AWOL from Long Kesh.

    Paragraph 2: Where’s the beef? Give us examples of every one of those claims, not empty assertions. Cynicism should not live on cred alone.

    Paragraph 3: “Just the facts, ma’am” [Dragnet, of blessed memory]

    So here they are:

    Phase one: We originally had repeated assurances by the present government that they were merely carrying out Labour-planned austerities. In themselves these were generally accepted by economists and others to be incredible and over-ambitious.

    Phase two: Those, out of sheer Tory machismo, were then inflated to 25% across-the-board cuts. In turn, these were seen to be ridiculous, going far, far beyond what any government had or could achieve).

    Phase three; And now to 40% (which elevates them and us to Aristophanes’ Nephelokokkygia or Schopenhauer’s Wolkenkuckucksheim or, in plain English, Cloud-Cuckoo-Land). So much so that, like Cameron’s EU referendum, they had, next day, to be demoted from a pledge to an aspiration.

    Oh, and by the way, read the FT (start with a back-issue from 23 June). The FThas consistently been pretty good on the intended Labour plans, and also those which the Tories kept very, very quiet about in the election campaign.

    Let’s put real numbers on them:

    Alistair Darling’s programme (which, I repeat, gets the IMF seal of approval) would have reduced headline moneys by £113 billion by 2014/15, involving a combination of cuts and taxes.

    George Osborne’s “emergency” budget added a further public-expenditure reduction of £32 billion. Osborne also added a net tax grab of £8 billion over the same period. There were also £2 billion further cuts in public expenditure which were hidden away in Osborne’s accounting.

    Paragraph 4: Arguably correct. But fun.

  • Surely this one, Gove, has star status as an incompetent.

    We are now up to iteration FIVE of his list (even MS Windows was becoming fit-for-service by that stage, even if the definitive bloatware).

    Now, why did Gove duck the question about whether he was strongly advised to consult before he issued the list in the first place?

    Will this continuing cock-up provoke the second resignation (third, if one counts Budd) from this blighted administration? The there will be the legal actions from LEAs (and private contractors) dumped upon.

  • To the average punter in the street new schools are irrelevant.

  • Precisely.

    Except that these cuts are, in part, to provide monies for “Free Schools”. Sounds good, but amounts to no more than alternatives to home schooling (at best, and desirable) or (at worst, and deplorable) making sure that little Jasper and Andrietta need not mix with Dwayne and Sharon.

    What Head Prefect Gove hasn’t sussed is that the main exploiters of his initiative will be those fringe groups who want to ensure their delicate little flowers are properly indoctrinated. We already have Jewish and Moslem “schools” working round the national Curriculum and editing CSE exam papers. Just watch this space.

    Fancy an institution, in a back alley, which operates after school hours and weekends, and requires even the Maths-teaching is “Jesus-orientated” (alternatively, choose your own near-deity)?

    Such perversions exist all over “ethnic” London and provincial towns. I’ve even heard about the odd joint around Belfast. Some are even “Christian” (though you’d need to be broad-minded about spiritualism, near-voodooism or whatever). Under present regulations, they can get “approved” by the exam bodies: then they gladly advertise as such (even if they rarely offer candidates).

    That’s what Head Prefect Gove is offering you. And, don’t worry, you’ll be paying for it.

    [No apologies for sounding like the Daily Mail. Just remember you read it here first.]