I will not say that there are no good ideas in yesterday’s U.K. government spending review - that I do not welcome some of the ideas for saving money. However, overall the exercise can only be fairly judged a failure - a failure of nerve as much as a failure of intellect. An effort has been made (unlike the utter fantasy world that is current American policy), but it is not enough - not nearly enough, to really deal with the fundemental problems.
What was done was enough to satisfy the bond market presently (to keep the United Kindom’s Triple A rating), but that is a bare minimum - so much more could, and should, have been done.
It is true that some problems were seriously examined - for example the government pension crises (with the raise in the retirement age in 2018/2020). But there was no sense of a fundemental spending review - of thinking for the long term on such matters as health, education or even welfare (although the government has made some moves towards reform on this).
The basic (and brutal) fact remains - U.K. government spending remains insanely high and this spending review will not really bring it down.
Even long discredited ideas such as overseas “development aid” (discredited by such works as the late Peter Bauer’s “Dissent On Development”) are not only maintained but expanded. And absurdities such as the television tax (to fund the leftist propaganda of the BBC) are only frozen - not abolished. Even Crossrail (a project which is violating the private property rights of people in their homes and business enterprises across London) is to be continued with.
Is the government getting out of things that it has no business to be in such as “Media, Culture and Sport” (or “welfare for the toffs” as some have called it) - no, although the budget is being cut.
Has the government really thought out long term defence - the only honest reply can be “no” (aircraft carriers without aircraft - and a lack of clarity about Trident).
Has the government got a clear plan for VICTORY (it appears to a be a forebidden word) in Afghanistan - or are we just spending money (and lives) without a clear aim? Does anyone doubt the answer to that?
Is there any really fundemental rethinking of the long term structure of the Welfare State - see above, the only honest reply can be “not really”.
Is there even a formal acceptance that credit bubble financial expansion (which is where former Prime Minister Brown got his revenue from to finance the explosion in government spending) can not continue?
Certainly not - the government believes that lending should be expanded (i.e. back to the credit bubble) even whilst it increases taxes on saving and its officials, at the Bank of England, sneer at savers and declare they should spend their money (the “demand” fallacy) - no language is too harsh in relation to the wrong headed attitude on this question.
Is there a clear committment to no more bank bailouts? No - the government just pretends that more regulations (on top of the thousands of pages of regulations that already exist) can square the circle of “cheap money” (i.e. lending not based on real savings) and sound banking (we can not have both).
Have we even got out of the money wasting (and wildly regulating) extra layer of government, that is the European Union - NO.
None of the above would be so bad if the spending review had been advertised as a holding exercise.
“Listen - we have to do something now FAST, to stop a panic on bond markets and the costs of us borrowing money exploding. But we are thinking about the fundemental problems of policy and we will come back later”.
But that is not what was done. On the contrary the whole matter was advertised as the great solution - the Duke of York led all his men up to the top of the hill and …. he led them back down again.
All the savage attacks from the BBC (and so on) would have been worth it - if the real long term problems had been dealt with, but they have not. I repeat - it was a holding exercise, better than doing nothing at all. But still a missed opportunity, a tragically missed opportunity.
What would Sir Robert Peel have done in this situation? Or Gladstone? Or even Sir Robert Walpole back in the corrupt early 18th century?
They would idenitfied what was just plain silly (such as “Development Aid” or the “Department of Culture, Media and Sport” and, of course, “E.U. membership” - a club we should not be in, even if it was free) and hit on the head at once. And they would have also looked at what the government could not do in the long term and started to work to reduce the role of the state. Not in a cruel way (Walpole’s enemies said he was corrupt, not that he was cruel, and Sir Robert Peel did more for the starving in Ireland than anyone else - it was a terrible misfortune for them that he fell from office when he did), but still in a fundemental way.
But it is vain to talk in this way - because there simply are not the people of this sort in high positions in politics today. Unlike some (by no means all) of the politicians of the past, the present occupyers of their positions seem to have no long term view of what the government should be doing and what it should not be doing. No clear vision of where they want to go and how to get there - no “vision thing” as President George Herbert Walker Bush sadly called it (and he was talking sadly, he was not seering at vision when he de facto admitted he did not have it). I am not saying they have an evil collectivist ideology - but rather than they just have no clear grasp of what they think would be the correct position to work towards.
I do not care whether the people trying to make the policy judgements are called “conservatives”, “liberals”, “libertarians”, or whatever - what I care about is are the basic problems being dealt with in a sustainable way.
And the grim reply has to be “no”.
The fundemental issues of policy will have to be dealt with at some point (the very viability of the country depends upon it - yes pompous, but sometimes being pompous is appropriate) - but now it will be more difficult, precisely because the government has said it has basically done all that needs to be done. And it has not.