The Guardian’s most centrist commentator Martin Kettle argues that the First Minsters’ case for leniency is one of the signs that the cuts mightn’t live up to their fierce billing. Or is being panglossian, as he himself wonders?
Might it not instead be time for the long expected political hurricane to be cautiously downgraded to a tropical storm?
Here are three very current reasons for thinking the answer is yes. The first is this week’s report in the Financial Times that Treasury officials are working to “reprofile” the planned cuts more evenly over coming years
Now here’s the second reason. It comes in the form of yesterday’s joint declaration by the UK’s three devolved first ministers that the cuts are too fast and too deep. Given that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all disproportionately threatened by the cuts, the joint declaration is hardly unexpected. Nevertheless anything that gets the SNP’s Alex Salmond, Labour’s Carwyn Jones and the DUP’s Peter Robinson on the same side cannot be dismissed as the usual suspects.
As recently as Monday, in his speech to the Tories in Birmingham, George Osborne claimed that only Ed Miliband and the union bosses that made him Labour leader were opposed to the government’s plans. Everyone else from the IMF and the OECD to David Miliband, Tony Blair and the British people were on the coalition’s side in the argument, said Osborne. Yesterday’s joint declaration makes that claim look silly.
The third piece of evidence is in some ways the most suggestive of all. John Hutton’s interim report on public sector pensions is as intelligent a piece of political and policy work as one would expect from this most underrated of former Labour ministers. At its heart is Hutton’s belief that denial about the affordability of the problem is simply not a long-term option. But central too is his rejection of many of the lazy cliches about public sector pensions into which both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have recently fallen.