Monday, January 03, 2011

"Wrong tax, wrong time", says Milliband. And the right tax, right time would be?

In the absence of any report back from Richard Grayson, it appears that the Labour denials continue. Yes, by all means oppose what the Coalition is doing if you've got an alternative, but until you've got one to offer, you might well choose to keep your heads down.

At every stage, Labour have decried the cuts as too fast, too soon, without ever suggesting what they might cut and when. And it really is becoming tiresome. During the election campaign, Labour talked about £44 billion of cuts. They weren't alone, although none of the three major parties were entirely clear about how they would do it. But now that they don't have a general election to salvage, all is quiet on the prudence front.

And there are only two options - cut expenditure or raise taxes. Obviously, with a Conservative Party averse to tax hikes, and with Liberal Democrats keen to take the poorest out of the income tax bracket altogether, there is some tension. But there are no Labour proposals on which taxes to raise, only protests about increasing VAT.

And on cutting expenditure, again Labour are too busy shroud-waving to offer anything that smacks of constructivism. No, we can't cut subsidies to public transport, no, we can't cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, no, we can't cut civil service numbers. Alright then, what can we cut?

When you're as deep in the fiscal hole as the United Kingdom is, you need to act. That means either doing things better, doing less of them, or raising more money. And if every time you try to do so, you're attacked for putting vital services at risk, or cutting critical functions, or risking the recovery, without initiating a debate on what might be done instead, all you do is mislead the public.

You cannot have Scandinavian levels of public services and American tax rates, there has to be a compromise somewhere. And whilst cutting services is hardly a pain-free option, waiting for the markets to force a gruesome slash and burn of our public services and social welfare net will be unspeakably ghastly. Is that what Ed and his friends really want? Is power so much more important than the public good?

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