Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Difficult politics

Responses to the defence review show how difficult the politics of cutting public expenditure is going to be for the Coalition Government. In my view with a cut in real terms of 8 per cent defence got off lightly. This was particularly true of the defence industries.

A spokesman for the UK Defence Association (an organisation I had never heard of before) was given a lot of air time on the BBC. Apparently a formal naval commander, he argued that as defence was the nation's first priority, it should not be cut at all. A prime example of fiscal nimbyism.

It is true that some parts of the defence budget have been cut more severely. In particular, the Navy has taken a 18 per cent hit. But this reflects what we need in a post-Cold War context when state versus state conflicts are rated as a relatively low threat.

There was also understandable concern from communities where bases look likely to be closed, particularly in Scotland. Local campaigns of this kind are, however, unlikely to affect the Government's stance.

Some Conservative backbenchers were also clearly unhappy at what they saw as too big a concession to the Liberal Democrats on Trident. Welcome to the give-and-take of coalition politics.

Today's cuts simply attempt to take back public expenditure back to where it was in 2006-7 in real terms. But even that is politically very difficult.

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