Monday, February 23, 2009

Nixon goes to Texas

John Rentoul thinks that the Conservatives are likely to win the next election, and that the state of the public finances will make life very difficult for David Cameron:

He would have to put up taxes, and not just by stealthy goose-pluckings here and there. He would have to put taxes up by enough to wipe out any growth in voters’ disposable incomes for every year of his first term and probably for every planning year into the future.

Could be.

Rentoul then offers two possible consolations for the Tories, only one of which I think makes sense:

Most people know that whoever wins the election will have to put up taxes, and most of them would rather the tax-phobic Tories did it than “active state” Labour. Most people also know that public spending will have to be restrained for years to come, and most of them will have more faith in the Tories to do that than Labour.

I get the first part: it’s standard ‘Nixon-goes-to-China’ logic. If something unpleasant has to be done, best give the job to someone ideologically opposed to it, because they won’t go too far. (This logic isn’t perfect, though: there’s always the chance that they won’t go far enough.)

But the second part flips this reasoning 180 degrees: if public spending has to come down, isn’t it actually quite risky to get a party with a deep distrust of the state to make the cuts rather than a party that defines itself largely by its support for public services? There are plenty of Tories quite cheerfully dusting off their wish lists of cuts.

Of course, my argument on this second point is as fallible as Rentoul’s on the first; I only note the inconsistency.

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