FOR months, ever since the coalition grabbed the reins of power, they’ve been building us up for this. I’ve never known a government spending review get so much pre-publicity.
It’s been a protracted softening-up campaign. Make us fear the worst, I thought, so they could look like good guys when it turned out not quite so bad after all.
But half a million lost jobs in public service is bad enough. More than bad enough.
A 25 per cent cut in public spending isn’t good housekeeping. It’s vandalism on a huge scale.
The theory is that the private sector will make up for it and more.
How is that, exactly?
Because lots of little Tories (or big ones) will gleefully grab the broken-off bits of public business and run them, not as a genuine service but for profit?
That’s long been a Tory dream, and everyone else’s nightmare. Or so I imagined.
It turns out to have been Nick Clegg’s dream all along too. Turns out he’s just as much a product of the grab-it-all-now Thatcher decade as his chum Cammers.
The sad irony is that even Gordon Brown, who ought to know better, was infected with the same virus.
According to Professor Allyson Pollock in her book NHS plc, Brown told her in 2002: “The public sector is bad at management, and … only the private sector is efficient and can manage services well.”
Is that why he had to bail out the banks? Because they’d been so well managed?
Is that why Network Rail had to be taken back into government ownership? Because private enterprise had been running it so efficiently?
“Public bad, private good” was the Big Lie of Thatcherism and it seems we’re all still suffering the after-effects. And now we have to suffer some more.
Which is not all the coalition’s fault. It was partly Brown who got us into this mess.
Firstly by allowing the bankers to run wild. Then by getting the rest of us to bail them out.
The idea that giving more power – not less – to self-interested private business is the way out is an insanity that threatens to dash us all much harder against the rocks.
For all the talk about having no choice, the government is actually taking one hell of a gamble.
By wielding a crashing great axe through public spending they risk devastating a lot of private businesses too.
Particularly the small ones, whose customers’ spending power will shrink as they lose jobs or benefits.
Whether the short-term pain will lead to any long-term gain is uncertain at best. I don’t know. And George Osborne certainly doesn’t know either.
Of course, it’s not his life he’s gambling with. It’s ours.
If it all goes horribly wrong it won’t leave rich kids Osborne, Cameron or Clegg jobless or penniless. More’s the pity.
They might be a little less cavalier about smashing things if they thought they might get hurt themselves in the wreckage.
THE LibDems like to talk green. Along with the mythical “fairness” Nick Clegg keeps banging on about, it’s their primary contribution to the coalition.
And it ought to be a hugely important contribution.
A little tough, then, on energy secretary Chris Huhne to have to announce the scrapping of plans for a tidal barrage across the Severn estuary that could have provided five per cent of Britain’s total energy needs entirely sustainably.
Especially as at the same time he announced eight sites – including Sizewell – where new nuclear plants could be built.
Huhne has in the past, for extremely good reasons, been opposed to nuclear power and in favour of genuinely renewable energy. Such as tidal power.
But it’s not all bad. For a start the list of nuclear sites is actually a retreat from the 11 previously named by Labour.
Secondly, without public subsidy it’s highly unlikely the new plants will actually be built.
And as for the Severn barrage, there were good reasons – aside from the £30billion cost – for setting it aside.
Environmental campaigners were always divided on the plan. And it would seem to make sense to try out the technology first by putting it to work somewhere else on a smaller scale.
If it were to prove itself across the Orwell, Deben and Blackwater estuaries, say, it would give us a clearer picture of how it might work in the Severn.
In fact, there’s a lot to be said for thinking small when it comes to power-generation.
The tidemill at Woodbridge was once cutting-edge technology. And there’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be applied again, with the benefit of improved techniques and materials, on tidal rivers throughout the land.
BEFORE the chancellor stood up, bookies were offering odds on how long he would speak for, how often he’d drink water while doing so, and how many times he’d use the word “cut”.
Apart from the opportunity that gave Osborne to make a bit on the side, doesn’t that tell you a lot about our society?
All trivia and gambling.