I have only seen the The Guardian and the FT today, but it is evidence of the effectiveness of the Government’s softening up process that the front page of the former carries not a single word on David Cameron’s cuts plan, whilst the FT has a single sentence proclaiming Alistair Darling’s rejection of the PM’s claims of Labour figure-fiddling.
To be fair to both papers, there is plenty of news, comment and analysis inside, but if it is the case that the cuts are going to change life as dramatically as Cameron claims, then we might have expected more dramatic coverage.
But then even as I look at the rival stories which squeezed out cuts, I give the papers the benefit of the doubt and imagine that they realised that when you actually looked at Cameron’s speech, there was less new in it than we might have gathered from the build up and the breathless broadcast coverage.
He was desperately trying to give the impression of a new context, new information, new facts and figures that allowed him to explain a shift from his election campaign position – the deficit is key, there will have to be cuts but we will cut fairly and sensitively and frontline services will be protected – to his government position – the situation is far worse than we anticipated (it’s not by the way) and the cuts will have to go much much deeper and it is all Labour’s fault.
What he does not articulate is the real position, namely that right-wing Conservatives (indeed quite a few left-wing Conservatives too) see the State as problem not solution, have an ideological commitment to shrinking the State whenever possible, and the combination of a post-recession deficit and the political convenience of a marriage of convenience with power-hungry Lib Dems gives them the perfect cover (or about as perfect as it gets from their perspective) to get on and do what they always wanted to do, but which would have been rejected even more comprehensively at the ballot box had they been open. Sorry for the length of the sentence but sometimes the unstated position is harder to explain than the glib clip for the 6 o’clock news.
What is intriguing, in this honeymood period for the Clamberons, is that the media know the figures he was quoting yesterday are not new, and there is no firm evidence to support his ‘things worse than expected’ claim (aka OTIB, oldest trick in book) and yet the broadcasters in particular, constantly desperate for new-ness, so readily accept the new context he seeks to construct.
‘Today we spend more on debt interest than we do on education,’ he ‘revealed’ in shock horror tones. Just as he revealed it virtually every day of the campaign.
Great too how Canada is becoming to the Tories’ economic plans what Sweden is to schools – a catch-all popular-sounding country that nobody finds too offensive, so if they did it well, why shouldn’t we?
But former finance minister Paul Martin, speaking to the FT, has some interesting observations on the differences as well as the similarities. ‘If you prepare them well, people will understand. They will not stay with you unless they feel that the sacrifice you’re asking of them is going to succeed.’
One of his advisers, speaking on Newsnight last night, said that Cameron was getting the pain message out there, but not the hope of a better future. There is an important reason for the difference in approach though.
The Canadians wanted to deal with the deficit but in a way that allowed for investment in public services to grow again. For Britain’s Tories, the cuts themselves are every bit as important as bringing the deficit down. Like I said yesterday, when right-wing parties get elected proclaiming themselves to be compassionate Conservatives, there is only one of those two words that counts.
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