It shouldn’t really feel different, but somehow it does.
The facts are this: while the coalition government is talking about freeing us from the yoke of the state, they’re quietly continuing down much of the same road that Labour was on. They have performed a U-turn on the useless and unnecessary NHS “Spine” project to record everyone’s medical history in a form that the world and his dog will have ready access to. They have killed the pointless “Home Information Pack”, apart from the equally pointless “Energy Performance Certificate”. They certainly haven’t performed any kind of change of direction on the monumentally stupid ideas of minimum pricing for alcohol or a universal ban on smoking.
And yet, there are small steps away from the idea that the state is all things to all men. Eric Pickles has already abolished a number of minor quangos. The ID database has been parked (although the final death stroke has not yet been administered.) The egregiously unpleasant CRB check system is being scaled back, although existing checks will stand, which is unacceptable and really, the system should not exist at all.
And the Govian schools initiative shows some promise, although I fear it will be too late for many parents who currently feel nothing but despair over education standards.
However, for all the talk in both Lib-Dem and Tory election manifestos, there is little evidence of a sweeping “rolling back of the state”, which both parties were committed to.
But I think there is a glimmer of hope with the forthcoming budget.
Osborne is going to have one shot at this. He can’t frivolously rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic every year for the next five years (if the coalition lasts that long) – he is going to have to grab this year’s budget with both hands as his once chance to really change the whole game. Labour are in disarray, that happy situation will not last.
The sadly missed David Laws showed that there might well be some genuine reform to come.
If the Chancellor takes this one chance that he has to eviscerate the bloat from government budgets, the economy will surge, the pound will strengthen and a genuine recovery will occur. If he makes some minor cuts here and there, we will be doomed to decades of pain, rather than years of pain. Because next year at budget time, Labour will have a leader, it will have policies and it will have a much greater degree of coherence than now.
The hope that I have, the glimmer of light, is the prospect of the Chancellor performing liposuction on the overblown monster of state to such an extent that the departments themselves will extinguish the worst of these horrors out of desperation to pay wages and keep their departments alive.
In other words, George: there is no swingeing cut, no evisceration, no budget slashing that is too severe. £6 billion is chump change, it’s less than 1% of government spending. We don’t need a reduction of 1%, we don’t even need a reduction of 5% or 10%.
Cut budgets across the board (including the NHS) by 20% or 25%. More is better.
Do away with foreign aid completely for the rest of this term of parliament.
Slash the military budget and force the generals to bring the boys home.
Slash the police budget and force the police to refocus on delivering useful policing, not bureaucratic form-filling.
Slash the education budget and force schools to focus on the basics, not “right-on” rubbish.
It’s entirely possible for people to do more with less, businesses manage this year after year. It’s time for government to step up to the same plate. It’s time to give us some hope.