Spending cuts: When ministers talk of lynch mobs, you know they’re scared
The cabinet is finally beginning to appreciate the scale of the consequences of the Treasury squeeze
Sunday 12 September 2010
The cabinet minister leant back into his chair and took a fortifying swig of his drink. Then, in a voice that blended bravado with fatalism, he said: “It’s going to be absolutely horrendous. We’re doomed to be extremely unpopular. Doooomed.”
He was anticipating the public reaction to the ferocity of the spending squeeze that George Osborne will unveil in just five weeks’ time. Put aside everything else that has occurred in the life of the coalition to date. None of it amounts to anything more than foreplay compared with the comprehensive spending review, the results of which are scheduled to be announced on 20 October. All other activity within Whitehall has now virtually ceased as cabinet ministers who are trying to protect their budgets do battle with the Treasury which is demanding cuts the like of which have not been seen since… well, that raises an interesting question.
Just how far back do you need to reach to find a squeeze of comparable severity? Will it be as bad as the 1980s? It will be much worse than that. There is a smattering of ministers and officials who have been around long enough to remember what it was like in the time of Margaret Thatcher. These veterans say the coalition’s cuts will be much, much deeper than anything implemented by the Iron Lady and Sir Geoffrey Howe. One seasoned figure reports that ministers are having to agree to cuts which involve a level of political risk he has never known in his long career.