Rewind the tape to last year’s Tory conference, and David Cameron was assuring us that,
"It will be a steep climb. But the view from the summit will be worth it." Today, it falls to George Osborne to tell us more about both the arduousness off the ascent and the beauty of
that view – although I expect that there will be a heavy empasis on the former. Already, the main passages are spilling into the papers and, as you’d expect, it’s mostly cuts and debt.
On that front, the main argument seems to be similar to that made by Nick
Clegg in Liverpool: that the longer it takes us to pay down our debts, the more money we waste thanks to interest payments and the like. Or as Osborne will put it, "Delay now means pay
more later. Everyone knows it’s the most basic rule of debt. So Labour’s cuts would not be smaller – they would be bigger and last longer." By way of a flourish, he will frown that Ed
Miliband’s approach would yield only a "decade lost to debt".
As for the cuts to counter that debt, Osborne will likely prepare us for some of the worst that the spending review has to offer. Speaking to the Beeb this morning, he has already confirmed one new cut: higher rate taxpayers will lose child benefit by 2013, saving the Treasury beancounters some £1 billion a
year. I’d be suprised if we don’t hear more about a squeeze on universal benefits later, whether it is general rhetoric about "tough choices," or specifics about what will be axed and
The problem with all this remains keeping the middle classes on side. Even if – like me – you believe that universal benefits are an unworkable proposition during a time of economy, the
toxic potential of the coalition’s benefit cuts and tax hikes is still hard to deny. Part of Osborne’s task today, then, will be to grasp a straw and suck some of that poison out – perhaps by
emphasising the all-round gains from raising the income tax
threshhold. There will no doubt be other baubles and gilded offerings as well.
So, an explanation of why the cuts are necessary, an attack on Labour’s new leader, some general softening-up ahead of the spending review, a few details of individual cuts, and a couple of sunny
interludes. Osborne’s is no straightforward task today – but, then, "the view from the summit," and all that.
P.S. You can see what Osborne’s getting at with his "decade of debt" line, but I’m afraid that Brown’s fiscal management has saddled us all with decades’ worth of debt. Below is
a reminder of what the next six years look like. According to the IFS, it could take over twenty years before we get to more sustainable levels: