George Osborne was on Andrew Marr’s programme earlier and quite rightly noted that Britain is one of the least-well prepared nations for the looming worldwide slowdown. "Other Finance Ministers", to quote Mr Osborne, were discussing how to use their surpluses to help their economies negotiate the forthcoming turbulence. That wasn’t an option for Britain that ends its ‘years of plenty’ with horrendous levels of public and private debt.
Mr Osborne went on to defend the fact that the Tories are matching Labour on spending – at least until 2010/11:
"The options for dealing with the budget deficit in the short-term would either be massive public spending cuts or big tax increases and I don’t think either of those are sensible given the economic downturn that the world is facing."
That’s not a fair characterisation of the options. Those of us wanting the Tories to constrain spending – like ConservativeHome, the IoD, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and The Telegraph – don’t seek "massive public spending cuts". We do, however, believe that spending growth should be more modest. Labour is planning 2% growth. A 1.5% growth rate would at least create some possibilities for reducing borrowing and for economy-stimulating tax relief.
The growth of the state under Brown really has been "massive". A table reproduced by Fraser Nelson over at Coffee House outlines its scale. Britain’s state has grown faster than every other OECD nation from 2000 until 2008, with the solitary exception of Korea. Government spending as a percentage of GDP equalled 37.1% in 2000 and will be an eye-watering 44.8% this year. If this spending had been used to lubricate necessary reforms to welfare or to our public services it would be half-acceptable but it hasn’t. We don’t want "massive cuts", George – just a return to some moderation. Is that so much to ask?