What Britain's cuts mean for its place in the world
Britain made deep cuts to social services, government jobs, welfare benefits, and defense spending in order to reduce a mounting deficit. The cuts could dramatically reshape British society.
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To the left, the reduced military budget is at least a step toward exorcising residual postempire notions about Britain remaining a world military power. But not so welcome is the manner in which Mr. Osborne drove his ax deep into welfare spending.Skip to next paragraph
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Osborne came under fire thursday from one of his 'own', London's Conservative mayor, Boris johnson. He said plans to cap the amount of benefit people could claim for housing rent would drive poorer ones out of more expensive areas of the capital - which he described as "Kosovo style social cleansing"
Could the cuts create a new society?
But while critics say that the poor will suffer most from the spending reductions, the government and the intellectual architects of its broader vision sense a unique opportunity to radically reshape society.
Phillip Blond, a Conservative writer credited with being a key ideological inspiration behind Prime Minister David Cameron's thinking, says it's essential to ensure civil society steps into the gap left by the state, "to deliver more for less."
Mr. Blond, the author of the influential book "Red Tory" whose opposition to unchecked free-market doctrines has invited the suspicion of the Conservative Party's Thatcherite wing, talks of "recapitalizing the poor" and creating assets for them.
His ideas and Mr. Cameron's "big society" policy, which aims to shift traditional government roles onto civil society, are departures from traditional Conservative thought. Blond concedes that big society notions are not entirely unprecedented in a European context, but argues that Britain is breaking new ground by opening the entire public-sector budget to nonprofit and community organizations.
Opponents of the big society push say it's merely window dressing for ideologically motivated spending reductions that form a blueprint for a smaller and callous society.
Public outrage will be delayed
Either way, pain lies ahead. But, will Britons swallow the cuts or throw off Anglo-Saxon reserve and take to the streets en masse? Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the Fabian Society, Britain's oldest and best-known center-left think tank, says that the abstract nature of the size of the spending cuts means they didn't immediately register
"People say it's only 5, 6, or 7 percent cuts per year. The point is you can do that in Year 1 and you will have to lose some jobs, but when you do that in the third year, cumulatively you are cutting at the bone," he says.
Gathering outside the railings at the Palace of Westminster for a protest before the cuts were announced, graying trade unionists stood in stark contrast to the cross-generational profile of France's recent marches. Carrying the red flags of their own union, health-sector workers Sue Orwin and Trudy Brailey even conceded that Britain's unions had for far too long been regarded as a hindrance rather than an asset.
"I would suggest that that's because at least for decades workers have not had it bad, so they have not needed us like they will now," said Ms. Orwin.
"It's going to change though," added Ms. Brailey, who predicted Britain would see strikes as the depth of the reductions begin to sink in. "Public services are under attack from every angle now and I don't think people will grin and bear it."