Tough on cuts or tough on the causes of cuts?

The political landscape for the next 5 years changed this week. The terms of debate and the rules of engagement are no longer as they were even last Sunday.

A week is a long time in politics. The debate last weekend evolved around whether Gordon Brown would use the ‘c’ word – cuts.  Now it is the flavour of the day, month, year, even decade. Nick Clegg says Britain needs “bold even savage cuts” and has asked the Lib Dems to consider whether Britain can afford to abolish university tuiton fees, a dearly held policy.

Today, Ed Balls is proposing measures to cut £2 billion off the education budget. It seems all aspiring prime ministers (and Balls is one) are now wanting to outdo the others.

But the practical reality is that we are in for years of cuts in public sector finances, and consequently cuts in salaries, pensions, jobs and services.

But how will the trade unions respend? Of course they must oppose cuts in public spending. They must draw focus on the causes of cuts. But given that, as of this week, the argument amongst all three major political parties against cuts has been lost, cuts there will be. 

But can the trade unions, particularly the public sector unions, be pragmatic and accept some compromiseries in defence of services? I fear not. Those of us working in the private sector or in the voluntary sector are already feeling the pinch. The public sector unions have a difficult road to travel in getting the right balance between defending their members and sustaining public support.

I fear not.  The consequence will be even worse cuts in public sector services and pay than otherwise would result if compromise can be achieved.

One Response

  1. The reason that public sector trade unionists oppose further cuts in spending on public services is that they know that any “fat” has long since been stripped out, and that cuts will leave the weakest members of society most vulnerable. In a recession the last thing we should be doing is decimating public services. It will be the public sector that rides to the rescue…it always is.

    I am surprised you didn’t mention some very useful cuts which could be made. How about cancelling the replacement of Trident to save £76bn; scrapping ID cards would save £1.3bn; ending our war in Afghanistan would save £2.5bn a year; reducing our military spending to simply the European average would save billions.

    And with Clegg and Cable trying to out-Tory the Tories on who can be toughest on the public sector, I am not sure where that leaves your tactical votoing campaign.

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