Been trying to decide whether yesterday's battle of words about spending cuts was positive or negative from a Conservative perspective. Immediately after I heard what Andrew Lansley had said on the Today programme, I feared that it might be negative. But by evening, when I saw the always competent Phillip Hammond demolish a jibbering John Denham on Newsnight, I had not the slightest doubt that Lansley had done the Conservative Party a huge service.
Along with David Cameron and almost everyone except Labour, this blog has been calling for an early General Election - mainly because British politics is in a state of limbo until the voters have their say, and replace the current flawed and discredited parliament. But the major downside for Conservatives if this were to happen would be the danger of taking over as the Government before the people fully appreciated the scale of the cuts in services that are to come. Our honeymoon could have been short. Yesterday's argument, which wasn't actually much of an argument at all, has drawn back the blinds, and exposed the harshness of the climate of austerity that is advancing to envelop us.
Now Gordon Brown thought that his dreams had come true yesterday morning - and what petty deceitful little dreams they were. Because Andrew Lansley had put a hard figure on what he thought the reductions might be, our Prime Minister thought he could nail the Tories as public service cutters - until it was pointed out by independent assessment Lansley's figures were the same as those promised by the Chancellor in the recent budget. The only significant difference is that the Conservatives are committed to maintaining real terms increases in health care expenditure, while Labour is promising that their 7% real terms cut over the three years from 2011 will apply to all budgets. Because the health budget is so significant, continuing to increase it as the Conservatives promise, means that Labour's 7% 'across the board' becomes a 10% cut for issues other than health. Its also the case that a Conservative Chancellor, following an early General Election would begin straightening out our public finances in 2010, rather than 2011.
Now, to why this is positive news for the Conservative Party. Firstly the commentators dismissed the Prime Minister's blustering and blathering for the dissembling garbage that it was. Secondly the British people are now much more aware of what is needed to sort out the disastrous mess that Labour is going to leave behind. And thirdly, the British people now know that the current Government is planning the same sort of cuts in public spending as a Conservative Government - just hoping to keep it hidden until after the General Election is out of the way. Yesterday, the ground was prepared for the election of a Government which is more truthful, and open, and committed to repairing the damage to our public finances.