A 'National Union of Ministers' has emerged from inside the cabinet to publicly pick a fight the Treasury over further cuts to public spending. The catch? Members of the 'NUM' are keen to protect only their own departmental budgets from chancellor George Osborne's demand that his cabinet colleagues find a whopping extra £10bn in cuts in 2015-16.
Ministers have begun publicly lobbying against the proposed cuts, with defence secretary Philip Hammond calling for welfare spending to be sacrificed in order to protect the military and, by extension, the MoD.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph he said he would go into the next spending review “fighting the case for the defence budget” and that there was a “body of opinion within cabinet who believes that we have to look at the welfare budget again”.
Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable has said he would be arguing within cabinet for investing more money in his department, not less.
He also hit back at Hammond on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, telling the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme it would be “very difficult” to make further cuts to welfare.
Asked whether he was a member of the so-called 'National Union of Ministers' resisting cuts to their departments, Cable replied: “I suspect I’ve been fingered as a shop steward in this particular organisation.” The business secretary also said the practise of ring-fencing some departmental budgets was “not a good approach to public spending in the long run”.
According to The Times, home secretary Theresa May, and communities secretary Eric Pickles are also resisting demands by Osborne that their budgets be cut.
The maneuvering stands in stark contrast to the coalition's first spending review, conducted after the 2010 election, when cabinet ministers were encouraged to submit plans to cut budgets quickly. In return they were offered place on a ‘Star Chamber’ that determined spending levels across government.
Pickles was one of the first ministers to be rewarded with a seat on the committee after swiftly agreeing spending cuts in September 2010.
And Hammond has long been one of the government’s strongest advocates of austerity. When he replaced Liam Fox as defence secretary concerns were voiced that Hammond, who had expected to be tasked with overseeing public spending cuts as chief secretary to the Treasury in a Conservative-majority government, would gut the military in pursuit of deficit reduction.
The chancellor is now facing a revolt on the Tories' front and back benches. As cabinet ministers lobby in public for their departmental budgets to be spared from the Treasury's axe, MPs have piled pressure on Osborne to cut taxes in order to stimulate growth.
Conservatives from the Free Enterprise Group including Priti Patel, Jesse Norman and Therese Coffey warned this morning that high taxes were harming business.
However, the idea was shot down by Tory MP Amber Rudd, the chancellor's parliamentary aide, who told the BBC on Sunday evening that Conservative MPs needed to “calm down” as the Treasury could not “go around giving unfunded tax cuts”.