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Osborne has Lib Dems pretty much where he wants them

Posted on 24 May 2010 | 11:05am

When George Osborne announced the first public spending cuts today, he did at least have a mandate of sorts. While some of the detail may differ from the ‘efficiency savings’ claimed during the election to be able to deliver six billion pounds, he had been pretty clear about direction of travel, and though he did not get a Parliamentary majority, he is Chancellor and democratically entitled, with the support of his coalition partners, to push through the cuts.

It is the coalition partners who have trickier questions to answer. Everyone accepts that the reality of coalition government means compromise, some desired plans left on the shelf, some undesired plans having to be implemented.

But it really is not that long ago that Nick Clegg was defining new politics as politicians saying what they would do, then doing it. Around the same time that he was saying – and thereby largely chiming with Labour – that the recovery was too fragile for the axe yet to be wielded as the Tories would like.

So those who voted Tory are getting pretty much what the Tories promised. Those who voted Lib Dem as a way of stopping the Tories doing what they planned can feel a tad let down.

And whilst Nick Clegg is clearly loving being deputy PM, I think the Tories saw him coming when it came to Cabinet formulation. He could – and probably should – have insisted on one of the big departments, the Treasury, Foreign Office or Home Office, in addition to being DPM.

The Tories have all three of these, and they have (well protected) health and education. The latter despite the fact that Schools Secretary Michael Gove, when the negotiations were going on, said he would happily give up his position for a Lib Dem.

The former Lib Dem schools supremo David Laws says he actively wanted the chief secretary’s job. Mmmm. And I bet David and George wanted him there too. Among the most Tory-leaning of the leading Lib Dems, his presence, and seeming relish for the task, locks him and his party into the political fallout. ‘I’ll let David answer in more detail’ could soon replace ‘I agree with Nick’ as the best Lib Dem T-shirt slogan.

The remaining Lib Dems in the Cabinet are Vince Cable at the Business Department, ready to take a lion’s share of cuts, Chris Huhne at energy where surely he will have to face up to the need for nuclear power to meet energy and climate change needs – a potential problem for his party – and finally Danny Alexander in the virtually Tory-free zone of Scotland.

I surprised some of my Labour colleagues during the campaign when I said I didn’t quite buy into the ‘Osborne the weak link’ line of attack. It was as much worries about Cameron as Osborne that stopped them getting a majority and having to dive in with the Liberal Democrats.

But as he set out his plans today, Osborne had the Lib Dems pretty much where he wants them. It was the still campaigning Tory, rather than the now governing Chancellor, who let a big smile cross his face as he asked David to say how happy Vince was with the way things turned out.

He would have preferred a big majority. But this is a pretty good second best, to do what he wanted, with some of his erstwhile greatest critics cheering him on.

*Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour

  • arresta

    “a tad let down”. You’ve raised understatement to a whole new level.

  • Colin Pearson

    Laws definitely looks too much like a man who has spent his life looking for excuses to be a Tory.

  • Margaret Mills

    Agree that Clegg saying one thing and doing another is very old politics. Bet he doesn’t have to give up the car. And if Sheffield Forgemasters go under — well, government is tough

  • alienfromzog

    Unfortunately, I think you’re right Alastair, George Osborne does seem to have a free pass to do what he wants.

    But I have one question, how does saving £6Bn prove anything?

    Alistair Darling on the other hand, made an ‘optimistic’ prediction in last years budget of a deficit of £175Bn for 2009-10. By taxing bank bonuses, and managing the economy well, such that unemployment was not nearly as bad as people feared, the deficit has come in at £156Bn.

    Two other observations. Firstly, it is the banks that caused this crisis not the public sector, so it’s good to see that the public sector is being cut now, whilst banking reform will be the subject of a year long commission. That seems the right kind of priority to me. Secondly if abolishing Quangos is the answer, why is George’s first decision as chancellor the creation of a new one? (the Office for Budget Responsibility) Which by the way, is anything but independent.

    And please can someone please start challenging Osborne every time he says “record deficit” this simply is not true – it’s only true in cash terms. But the deficit is almost always at record levels in cash terms.

  • Cromwell

    At least 8% of the national debts was as a result of financial intervention. This I believe would at least double, if the unemployment and recession consequences were taken into acount. I mean the loss in tax revenue from job losses and businesses closing down, not to mention property troubles.

    My point is, why are the media so eager to let everyone know that we should prepare to pay for a mess we did not create. Let the financial sector shoulder the bill. The sure have the money to pay for it. I believe the banks in uk alone made about 20billion within a year during a recession.

    Can not stand the way princess Fergie was treated by a media brat that is not accountable himself. Talk about corruption. The media is as corrupt as come, an unaccountantable bunch in this country.

    This is why no one makes this point on the media channels.
    People should wake-up and demand that the financial sector shoulder their fair share of the debts instead of hitting the masses with the bill.

  • Julian

    Yes the cuts are dire but the LibDems were left with no choice when Blunkett et al put the kaibosh on the rainbow coalition idea. If saving the country from these cuts was so important why didn’t Labour even try to put together the rainbow coalition? I don’t believe it would have worked, the SNP and PC would have held the government to ransom, BUT Labour threw in the towel immediately. A minority Tory government would have led to another election in the autumn, which would have led to the Tories in all likelihood gaining majority and NONE of the concessions they made to the LibDems would have come about. Labour is acting like a jilted bride, when in fact they did the jilting!

  • olli issakainen

    Authoritarian v. liberal is the big dividing line in politics today – not left v. right. It is central control v. choice. Individual v. government.
    There is an increasingly individualistic electorate in Britain. Does the new Con-Lib coalition speak for new liberalism? Is David Cameron a liberal Conservative or a Thatcherite?
    Ed Miliband has stated that with David Cameron you must always look behind the image. Nick Clegg wrote in the Guardian that the aims of the coaliton are liberal.
    Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have reoriented their parties. Mr Cameron has been moving into Liberal Democrat territory since 2005. He has tried to reinvent the Tories to a liberal, progressive force. He supports localism and civil liberties. Mr Cameron´s ambitious plan is to reshape the centre ground of British politics and claim it his own.
    While David Cameron seems to be a pre-Thatcherite Tory in a tradition which ended with Macmillan in 1963, Nick Clegg has in turn abandoned social democracy. He also believes in decentralisation of power and social responsibility. David Cameron, like Disraeli before, is in favour of localism, social responsibility and pragmatism. No wonder David and Nick get on so well!
    So, it looks like Cameron and Clegg are economically and socially liberal. Both men think that government is too centralised, big and interfering. According to David Cameron this is not just about a group of people who have got together for power. Both parties have shared interests.
    Britain today is tolerant and liberal, but tough on crime, immigration and EU. Only time will tell whether we can call the Con-Lib government a progressive alliance.

    Ps. It is worth noting that governments intent on smaller state rarely achieve their objective. This may come as a surprise to many, but Margaret Thatcher centralised power.

  • Cromwell

    Has anyone noticed the manner with which the media debate about the cuts is firmly focused on public services cuts. I can see the tiny smile on Law’s face when Laura Kuensberg asked him about the spending cuts within the public services because he knows what the questions truly means: distracting people from the debate on, WHO FAIRLY SHOULD PAY FOR THE DEEFICIT REDUCTION?

    People should focus more on this now because I never thought that in these times, that Banks can get away with this as they did in the 1930s, 50s, 60s…

    Men, I envy these guys (Bank owners). They are living the dream…. if they get away with it.

  • Jacquie R

    Well Nick Clegg’s reason/excuse for agreeing to the “axe”, is the current economic turbulence.

    This coaliton has given everyone an excuse and Cameron is reaping so many benefits he must think all his Christmases have come at once. He can make even more savings through additional cuts and deferment of tax decreases, he can centralise/modernise his party, he can bring in boundary changes in his favour, he can give himself five years in office, he can swallow up the Lib Dems, and he can stay in power way beyond 2015 if he plays his cards right.

    Labour is now renewing itself and can try to formulate policies closer to its fairer and more libertarian principles. Hopefully it will start to form opinion, rather than feel it has to suck up to the vested interests and prejudices of various fat cats, moguls and Daily Mail readers.

    An example of New Labour stealing old Tory clothes is the eye-watering and counter-productive rise in the prison population since 1997. As Ramsbothom points out today, this has led to an increase in the re-offending rate of 12%.

    There were a lot of great things done by New Labour, but we shouldn’t be afraid to say that we were too desperate at times and we sold out too often.

  • Cromwell

    Jacquie R, well said. It took Diane Abbot to point out how ridiculous that labour had conceded the civil liberty’s ground to the Tories. Labour should stand for labour. As long as there are people working for a living, labour should stand for them, for they are manyyyyy…. lol.

    Seriously it felt bad to see labour looking more draconian on civil liberties than the Tories. We are talking about the Tories here.

    Future labour leaders should have this as a guide; If your policy is to the right of the Tories. Consider it a bad sign that the country would not like it, no matter what the polls say. Common sense really.

  • s chapman

    AC – not sure I agree that the Tories got what they wanted…Im a Tory and whilst very happy with events and the outlook I really dont think that the Tories are getting all what they wanted at all but they are grown up and realise what the alternative is – indeed this is exactly the point for the Liberals…they hav some influence on policy and that “some” is way beyond anyhting they have ever had or will have.
    Can you not give politics a rest now mate please and let the Coalition have even a few months to get things going…

  • Elaine Mills

    It is just me or does Nick Clegg look like he has sold his soul to the devil. Before the election he had some sort of sparky character one that lots of people were attracted to in some sort of way however, now whenever I see him on the television he seems like someone very different. Maybe the reality of what he has committed himself to has finally sunken in. He now seems to be in a lose lose situation. Stay in the coalition and have to acccept what the tories decide or disband and not be trusted by I would think a great number of previous liberal democrat voters who voted for him thinking he was a real alternative to what they had already. Interesting times ahead me thinks.

  • Graham Jones

    Although I didn’t want him as chancellor, because of his economic ideas, Osbourne was never the weakest link. Yes, he was silly to mess with Peter Mandleson, but it became a joke rather than damaging.
    Cameron was probably more concerned about others on the front bench, and his need to form a coalition helped him prune some of those.
    When you point out the positions handed to the Lib-dems, it is striking that they aren’t the most affective roles to hold in a political axis. Laws and Cable, are tied-up with Osbourne at the Treasury, and Clegg is reduced to speech making. The Lib-dems have been made to look stupid, by accepting the Scottish Office which they would have abolished.
    They have pinned a lot on voting reforms, which will take a backseat, with the economy being centre-stage. The problem for the Lib-dems, will come from their back-benches, where they will grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of voice they have on policy.
    It’s not difficult to see six months down the line, where Labour have a new leader, and Vince Cable jumps ship. It may not happen, but if Osbourne continues to muzzle him on policy, it won’t be long before he finds himself a lone voice. If this happens, he might just start to see that the Lib-dems, aren’t so Lib-dem anymore.

  • Patrick James

    I think the Lib Dems using Greece as the explanation for their amazing U turn on strategy for dealing with the deficit is funny.

    For someone who didn’t win the election Cameron is in a very good position but it is dependent on the complicity of the Lib Dems.

    However I do feel that the Lib Dems will be losing their left leaning support and that the job of Labour now is to become *the* party of progressive social outlook. The new leader must reach out to the Lib Dems left leaners and get them onboard.

  • bill sharples

    Well please correct me if I am up the proverbial but the Tories hatred for PR Knows no bounds whilst the LibDems are head over heels in love ( but its only Monday).If this coalition of convienience ( please suspend disbelief here) actually works then where does that leave the Tory rant, I suspect looking just a tad silly. Bill

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Two excellent pieces in the Indie by Jane Merricks and John Rentoul recounting the rise of the modernisers/reformers in the Lib Dems (Clegg, Laws, Huhne) and the Tories (Cameron, Osborne) in 2005 is basically all one needs to know.

    While the young reformers were wresting control of Tory and Lib Dems, Gordon Brown and his thugs with support of party were knifing Tony to rid New Labour of its reform momentum. And instead of taking them on, the so-called Blairites just rolled over for their tummies to be tickled.

    The upshot is not only the Tory and Lib Dem reformers taking over the country/the future but the Milibands thrashing around apologising for their sins.

    Is history going to judge that in reality New Labour was not “labour” or “new” at all but the “Tony Blair Party” -an interregnum between Thatcher and Cameron/Clegg?

  • Johny C

    AC- I am a big admirer of all your work and really enjoy your blog, but isn’t it time that we stop discussing the political parties as football teams or perhaps a better analogy as boxers. Trying to win a points victory overtime or ideally a knockout. The tories have the lib dems where they want them, yeah so labour and them can deliver heavey blows later. But what is the point?

    I personally can’t see any point to this type of politics, how does it help anyone?

  • Baig

    Clegg is starting to annoy me and he looks more disingenuous with each day that passes by in the coalition. I actually hoped for a Lab-Lib coalition but he has seriously dissapointed me from the day the results have come out.

    He would look more credible if he simply said look, I still believe what I did a week ago that we should not make such cuts now as it will cause a double-dip recession. The crisis in Greece happened a week before the election date and even in the last week of the election campaign me and Vince stood by what we said all along despite what happened in Greece. Today I still stand by what I said as the Lib Dems are a party that stand up for that they believe and never hesitate in speaking the truth. The difference now is that we are in a coalition in which have an insiginficant number of seats so we do not have enough leverage to enforce our economic policy. The Tories form the major part of the coalition so it is their economic policy that is going through, not ours.

    Simple as that. Does it not sound more truthful? They would not look like such treacherous fools this way. An ex-tory minister said the same thing on BBC yesterday, he said it does not look genuine when both parties are saying they have dumped the policies they were campaigning so hard for a week ago and simply say they now no longer believe in them or consider them as irrelevant for the time being.

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire


    Bong-bong, as I heard the Gospel Oak church bell announce midnight, to help usher in our “Birthday Boy’s” special day, 25 May 2010, it reminded me on this day LAST year, one crystal-ball gazing wag pawkily made two predictions

    First, that your beloved Burnley FC would get relegated. What, even after only one measly season in the Premiership?

    Second, that Labour would lose the Election and you’d be done for. Twice over, unlucky

    Swell reasons for double sulking. Even your racing bike and bagpipes might even pear-shape on you. So, quadruple sulking, then

    Enough accuracy, there, to shake the faith of all who still remain sceptical of soothsayers’ talents

    Whereas this year, I prefer to predict this day ushers in a much luckier 365 days ahead for you, sir

    Anyway, many happiest returns of the day, from Trevor in Portsmouth

    TM ——


  • olli issakainen

    Happy Birthday to AC from Finland!

  • Kerry

    Patrick James: Could not agree more! Vince Cable – newsnight last night – any shred of remaining credibility on the floor – frozen smile on his face – rabbit in headlights look in his eyes – Jeremy going easy – very sad!

  • SMukesh

    Happy birthday AC…are all the labour bigwigs attending the party later?

  • Graham Jones

    Happy Birthday.

  • Stevo

    many happy returns AC-the blog is a beacon in the darkness.

    keep the faith!!(But perhaps not the bagpipes)

  • Alan Quinn

    Happy Birthday Comrade!

  • alan

    Laws and Clegg seem to have been made to be Tories and i think in the fullness of time thats what going to happen,i’ve said it before i would be really worried if i where a LibDem becuase they could well end up being swallowed by the tory party at worst and at best being unelectable when tarred with the cuts brush that this governement will surely swave through every aspect of public life in this country.

  • twiga07

    Is it true that the Liberal Democrat requested that they should keep the public funding that goes to opposition parties. I thought they are part of the Coalition government.

    Tory Clegg, make-up your mind, are you part of the government or the opposition?

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun

    The government has now abolished the child tax fund on the logic that the huge (national debt) borrowing makes it unsustainable, i.e. you cannot fund it with more borrowings.

    However, I wonder whether the government will promise to restore this once the borrowing is addressed? That is the question the Labour opposition should be putting to the government.

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun

    An a happy birthday to A Campbell, may you learn to do God has you grow older.

  • Kathy

    The child tax fund is a waste of money and I for one object to my taxes paying for it or should that be borrowing to pay for it. Most people cannot afford to add to it so the amount available when the children are 18 will not be worth having. In fact according to my son, the £250 he received for his daughter has lost its value and after two years she only has £230 in her account. There are better ways of helping children in need than this cock brained idea where the money is tied up. I think this is a good move to abolish it.

  • Karen

    Happy Birthday Alastair
    Look forward to reading your blog each day.It helps to know that there are others on the same wavelength , saying the things that I am thinking.

  • johny c

    The child trust fund and winter fuel allowances are ridiculous policies and should be cut.

    Benefits should be for people who need them. More than half the people who receive them don’t need them while we still have old people and children in poverty.

    Never made sense for a labour government, help the people who need it.

  • Julie Buckle

    Happy Birthday, Alastair. Come on, get blogging, even if it is your birthday – dying to know your thoughts on today.


  • Sam Robinson

    Happy Birthday, hope it was a good one – loving your blog & looking forward to the new book.

  • kathy

    I agree with Johnny C that the money should be paid to those that need it and not everyone. However, I think the Winter Fuel Allowance is one of Labour’s better policies, if it goes to the pensioners who are struggling. However £250 towards a winter fuel bill is not going to be enough to make a struggling pensioner not be afraid to turn on the heating as claimed by a Labour politician recently. Although means testing is a pain for the people involved, it is the only way to make sure rich pensioners who do not need the money are excluded. I have helped an elderly relative fill in a form to claim extra benefits that she is entitled to and needs as she has very little savings. The number of pages to fill in and the stupid questions asked is ridiculous. No wonder many do not bother to claim. These forms put them off. There should be a short claim form which is easy for the elderly to understand and quick for them to fill in.

  • scylla

    Happy belated birthday and may your wishes come true i.e labour wins the next election by a landslide and sky closes down.

  • Baig

    Happy B Day.

    I think it’s sad to see the CTF go. I received it in January and looked as it like a gift from the govt at birth. I also welcomed the health in pregnancy grant of £190. I have heard some of the rich Tories welcome the scrap saying that they were earning £400k a year and found it of no use at all. Of course they wouldn’t but I do think it should have been families of a lesser income of say less than £40 or £35k.

    I thought Cameron was on the side of familes but it seems as though he wants to disown them with this move. If he says we have no money for it then where would he have paid for the marriage tax break?

    I do strongly support the fact that we need to be doing more to recognise marriage. There is dire social breakdown because of unstable families. It has become an ugly culture with people swapping partners regulalry and making life hell for the children. Children who grow up in a home without mother or father are seriously at disadvantaged compared to those that do (emotionally, socially, academically and so much else). I guess it goes with secularism. I would like to see more to support families.

    Growing up with your mother and father at home should not be a privilege.

  • MacK

    In 2001, according to the census, the population of the U.K. was approx 59 million.Estimates for 2010 are that it will be 62 Million. If the population has grown by three million why do the Lib Dem Cons intend to reduce the number of elected M.P.s? Surely we should at least be retaining the number we have? Or even increasing the number. I bet that most of the seats that will go will be Labour ones.

  • Bill Sharples

    Right wing Tory policies with a scrumptious sweet LibDem coating oooh they are so nice………….till you bite into them! Then we find the sour taste of elitist educational policies designed by the few to help the few followed by a nasty aftertaste of a VAT increase that disproportionately hits the poorest,you know the ones not sending their kids to middle class elitist schools.

  • Marion

    Thanks for great article in Mirror. Your willingness to be open about your depression is making an exceptional contribution to challenging stigma, both internalised stigma that those of us with mental illness tend to acquire and other people’s distorted and demeaning views of us. Janet Street-Porter’s article was extravagantly ludicrous, selfish/greedy and destructive. Your response was exactly what was needed.

  • Johny C

    Baig, surely you have to agree that half a billion a year for the CTF most of which goes to people who don’t need it is too much. People on 30K shouldn’t get such benefit, people on 400K getting it is a scandal when many live in poverty.

    Labour policies should be to help those who really need help. Same for winter fuel allowance, My own mother who is very well off receives it while people in the country suffer through winter.

    Just cause a policy benefits you personally does not make it right. I want to be proud of a labour party who help those who really need it. Once we have got every child out of poverty, every pensioner out of poverty then these policies perhaps can be justified. Until then lets hope for a labour party that realise its true values, its true calling and its true need in this country.

  • Emma

    I’m currently reading All In The Mind and have found it powerfully moving. The Aftermath made me cry. Thankyou for putting in words what I’ve experienced it’s helped me so much to feel less alone. Also, thankyou for your amazing retailation article to the damaging piece of rubbish spewed out by Janet Street Porter. Thankyou so much.

  • Andy

    Check out MORE THAN A GAME.. the Bobby Moore Fund World Cup song on iTunes and video with some great Bobby Moore footage on YouTube. Song written and performed by a proud Claret and all for a good cause!!

  • caroline.millar

    The older you get the less God you should do. Happy birthday and well done for your comments on the need to get sharp-elbowed parents to stick with their local schools and help make them better rather than setting up state subsidised private schools for the privileged

  • erica

    Dear Alastair, I watched QT tonight and enjoyed your input. Whether I agree with you or not, I find you to be one of the very few public commentators nowadays who is able to employ reasoned argument. Piers just made a fool of himself by interrupting like a spoilt brat. The lynch mob attitude to the Iraq war worries me greatly. Never have I heard a critique of the war follow reasoned argument instead of the misplaced and frankly cowardly heckling we are subjected to in debate after debate. The sad truth is ‘the public’ do not understand the concept of reasoned argument anymore. We need people like you to bring us back from the brink of a second dark ages.