The Shape of Things to Come…

Well, it’s been a while but the twin factors of both the Browne Review and the Spending Review have driven me back into the waiting arms of my blog to muse about the reality of the brave new world I welcomed so enthusiastically in May…

First things first – last Wednesday’s Spending Review was undoubtedly D-Day – not just for the coalition but for us all. Would it be as terrible as we feared? Well, I have to say no. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to stand up and cheer about cuts to public spending which are undoubtedly going to make all of our lives more difficult in the short term – but I actually thought it would be worse. In truth, given the unrelentingly doom-laded tone of the media, until I actually read the Spending Review document in full I thought it was worse.

The biggest criticism Labour seem to be able to level at the government is that it’s cuts are ideologically driven, that regardless of the country’s financial situation the government would have gone on some kind of rampage of oppression – just because they could. Apart from the fact that this argument is somewhat childish it also ignores the fact that this ideological “roll back of the state” will only reduce public spending to 2007 levels – hardly an era of massive underinvestment.  All the things that are being protected or invested in are hardly the choices of an insanely right wing mob – the health service, which will remain unequivocably free at the point of use; international aid and low carbon technologies. Rather these are the priorities of a liberal-minded government with a desire to position Britain well for the future.

The Spending Review isn’t however devoid of ideology – quite the opposite – and for that we should be grateful. I certainly don’t want anyone making decisions on the government’s priorities for the next five years without a clear vision of what it wants the country to look like after those five years. What the CSR sets out is a plan to fundamentally reshape Britain – to create an economy dependent on innovation, enterprise and private sector growth rather than on an ever-expanding public sector, a burgeoning budget deficit and an over-stretched welfare state.

The decisions being taken on welfare and benefits are tough ones but it’s important that they are taken. I defy anyone to say that our welfare system doesn’t need fixing, I really do. I’m not denying that we should have one – exactly the opposite, it is our ability to care for the poor and vulnerable which makes us an enlightened society. But poverty and reliance on the state for survival should be the absolute last resource not a lifestyle choice. The fact that many children in low income families grow up with no ambition other than have a child, qualify for a council house and, if they’re lucky, to stay out of jail is an appalling indictment on this country and one that we should feel ashamed of. Ultimately the reforms Ian Duncan-Smith is proposing will revolutionise the welfare system and improve the quality of thousands of people’s lives but to do this the government has to make tough decisions up front, decisions which it is attempting to mitigate, but which will hurt.

However if the choices made in the CSR really deliver the brave new world we were promised in May than ultimately all of us will reap the benefits. Worth the risk? I think so. I hope so…

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