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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Public Spending: can we have some honesty please?

Another PMQs. Another tribal affair. When will MPs realise that behaving like animals on the floor of the commons does nothing to endear them to the voting public?

The "highlight" of today's PMQs, if you can call it that, was the debate between Brown and Cameron over alleged "cuts" to public services. The Prime Minister quoted so many statistics everyone was left confused, including himself, but the bottom line is that he accused the Tories of proposing a 10% cut in public spending. "They want to spend less, where we would spend more" said Mr Brown.

The Labour benches roared with approval for their leader, something they weren't doing a few days ago, while I was left thinking how desperate Mr Brown's argument was. This is patronising stuff; over-simplistic and assuming the public don't have the sophistication to distinguish between nominal and real reductions in spending.

David Cameron wasn't on form, but managed to earn a reprimand from the outgoing Speaker for telling Mr Brown "You are not fit to be Prime Minister!" All very amusing. It seemed the two "leaders" were keen to accuse each other of making cuts to public spending, but weren't quite so keen to have a rational, sensible and responsible discussion about how spending levels can be adequately maintained. There is a very crucial argument to be had about public spending, but hurling insults and producing arbitrary statistics isn't the way to do things.

It's not as simple as "Labour investment versus Conservative cuts". But Labour are onto something here because Cameron has always made it clear, even before the recession became an unfortunate reality, that the Tories would not necessarily be matching Labour's spending commitments. Recently, they have declared they would abolish free prescriptions in Wales (and presumably Scotland), have tied themselves in knots about the future of SureStart, and continue to state that they are for tax cuts which would benefit only the wealthier. There is little doubt that Cameron would like to reduce public spending but, realising peceived cuts would be unpopular, has found a defence in attacking Brown's lack of openness on Labour spending plans.

Neither Cameron nor Brown can be trusted with our public services. Labour has for the last twelve years poured welcome money into our public sector but appeared to have little idea as to how to actually deliver strong public services. Cameron continues to delude himself that tax cuts are the way forward, which does not sit comfortably with his defence of Tory public spending plans.

More honesty is required if the public is to believe that either of the major parties has a practical, considered and workable long-term plan for improving Britain's public services. This may well be the decisive issue in the forthcoming General election, as communities will oppose any threats to vital services, including Post Offices and hospitals.

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