As everybody knows by now, George Osborne has promised that a Conservative Government would match Labour spending growth of 2.3% for the next three years. I quite understand, of course, the politics of this; we don’t want to give Labour ammunition to accuse us of planning to cut spending on ‘schools’n’hospitals’.
And I agree with George Osborne that spending increases in the Government’s current round are relatively low – but that is relative to a rate of spending that has ballooned from 37% of GDP to 45% since 2000.
That amounts to what George himself calls ‘profligacy’.
But if it is unwise to make specific tax commitments at this stage, it is surely equally unwise to be tied to Labour’s spending plans. To quote myself for a moment, speaking to the Daily Mail and Telegraph last week: ‘It is perfectly possible to reduce expenditure, by cutting waste, to make tax cuts. That is why we are Conservatives. It would be intolerable if by accepting Labour’s inflated spending plans an incoming Tory government was then forced to raise taxes to pay for them.’
Is that a corner we want to box ourselves into?
Anyone who wants to inform themselves on some of the ways that taxpayers are suffering at the moment – especially with council tax – should look at Michael Fallon’s excellent article published on the Conservativehome website last Wednesday: http://conservativehome.blogs.com/torydiary/2008/02/michael-fallon.html
So what we ought to be doing, it seems to me, is looking imaginatively at making really significant efficiency savings, as a launchpad for tax cuts. Indeed, I have written to David Cameron and George Osborne with some suggestions of my own along these lines.
I look forward very much to hearing their response.