The two biggest stories in British politics: a likely change of government in 2010, and the financial mess it will inherit. Accordingly, two pieces in Prospect’s July opinions dig into both.
In the first, David Halpern, formerly a policy guru in Tony Blair’s strategy unit, unpicks how a future government will need to outsmart the Whitehall bureaucracy in search of something close to £90bn a year of savings. Mandarins will be none too keen on giving up their fiefdoms, and Halpern outlines the dangers of various ineffective money-saving ploys: “salami slicing” or “bleeding stumps.” Most enticing, though, is the opportunity that such dramatic cuts in spending might present, and here Halpern hints at the (appealing) prospect of making cuts and shaking up government at the same time:
Great leaps in productivity often come from bankruptcy—one of the very rare moments when companies are forced to think about things afresh. The same could happen in the British public sector. There are stacks of promising ideas for reimagining our public services.
It may be that the likelihood of such changes being made by David Cameron and George Osborne increased significantly during May and June’s expenses scandal. Ed Howker, who recently took Prospect inside Boris Johnson’s disappointing first year in London’s City Hall, this month takes a close look at how Cameron did so well on what, at first blush, looked like a particularly difficult hand. As Howker argues: the rococo particulars of moat-cleaning and portico-building posed a real danger to a rejuvenated Conservative brand. “Taxpayers could easily have felt that the Tories failed to practise the same thrift with public funds that they often call for in the public sector… Yet [Cameron’s] actions still won round public opinion and showed him capable of the ruthlessness and decisiveness under pressure required of a prime minister.” A performance, then, which makes victory in next year’s election all the more likely—as well as the pain that follows it too.