The Blog

Tories Refuse to Outline Cuts as Voters Turn Away From Endless Austerity

In his appearance on theQ&A David Cameron again refused to specify where his planned cuts will fall. This came a week after George Osborne reigned in his own message of continued cuts in his final budget before the general election.

In his appearance on the #BattleforNumber10 Q&A David Cameron again refused to specify where his planned cuts will fall. This came a week after George Osborne reigned in his own message of continued cuts in his final budget before the general election.

Both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have come under increasing pressure to 'come clean' on where the axe will fall. Cameron faced an uncomfortable grilling during #BattleforNumber10 when interviewer Jeremy Paxman asked whether he 'knows and would not say' where savings would come from or whether he simply did not know.

Osborne is also masking the planned savings with a veiled budget that comes only months after proudly escalating 'colossal' cuts well into the next Parliament in his Autumn statement. The Chancellor instead opted to deliver a last budget of gimmicks and gags.

Last December the Chancellor used the Autumn budget statement to announce deep spending cuts, overestimating the appetite for further economic self-flagellation. A poster of the German countryside and a straight and seemingly endless 'Road to Recovery' was unveiled on the same theme soon after.

But the polls in the aftermath of the Autumn statement gave Labour a seven-point lead, even in the face of rising employment and wages finally catching up with inflation. Osborne ensured he didn't make the same mistake twice and used his pre-election budget to distract from his cuts and to instead deliver personal attacks against Ed Miliband.

The Chancellor was able to deliver a 'budget bounce' in the immediate aftermath of the budget taking the Conservatives three-points above Labour. But the latest opinion poll following #BattleforNumber10 now shows a four-point lead for Labour after Ed Miliband confounded expectations and attacked welfare cuts as a means to balance the budget.

What exactly has changed in the public mood since the last election that has led the Prime Minister and his Chancellor to change course so dramatically?

A crisis borne of inequality, nevertheless gave consent to the austerity machine in 2010 as voters accepted that Labour's welfare spending caused the financial crisis. Inequality started to grow from the 1970s, making endless and mounting debt necessary to get on in life whilst dampening healthy consumerism as credit cards and mortgages replaced the disposable income of the post-war generation.

Money from low and middle pay-packets trickled back up the ladder to be invested back into mortgages and endless credit, as deregulation of the credit market was used to plaster over the cracks of growing inequality. Interest on top of credit ensured even more wealth was hoovered up to the super-rich.

Eventually, the endless credit and subprime mortgages led to the credit crunch in 2008. The fall-out and austerity that followed sank many families and squeezed the rest.

The quick-fix Cameron and Osborne promised five years ago was accepted as a short, sharp solution to the crash and the deficit. It has been sharp for many, but Osborne's Autumn statement had confirmed a great fear for those merely tolerating austerity; that it would not be short and has failed to remove the deficit.

Stories of poverty, food banks and homelessness reinforced the idea that those bad pre-crash habits were being expelled and those sinking into a financial abyss were an unfortunate side effect to a bitter medicine of austerity championed, until last Tuesday, by both Cameron and Osborne.

Despite the budget's gimmicks and giveaways for first-time home buyers, pensioners and savers, £25bn of cuts are due by 2017. Paxman rounded on Cameron whose only admissions covered £13bn needs to come from departments, and £12bn from Welfare.

Leaked proposals for cuts in time for the Conservative Spring Conference in Manchester which were quickly denied by a spokeswoman for Iain Duncan Smith, "It's wrong and misleading to suggest that any of this is part of our plan." Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Work and Pensions secretary stated that is may not even be 'relevant' to outline cuts until after the election.

Osborne's final budget and David Cameron's refusal to specify the next half of austerity savings is a cynical attempt to veil the cuts they once trumpeted so proudly. As voters turn their backs on austerity and reflect on the past five years, we may wonder whether it was all worth it for what David Cameron calls a 'half-finished' job.