Meaningful budget cuts and protected budgets: A contradiction in terms?

With so many areas of the UK budget protected from cuts, meaningful cuts in the overall budget will be nearly impossible.

Andrew Winning/REUTERS
A trader on the trading floor at IG Markets looks at his screen as Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, delivers his budget speech, in London March 24. British finance minister Alistair Darling cut his borrowing forecasts on Wednesday and announced a 2.5 billion pounds ($3.75 billion) package to promote growth in the last budget before an election that is just weeks away.

The finances of the UK must be brought under control. David Cameron is planning on cuts. But where? The NHS? Nope, off-limits. The behemoth will stumble on, consuming tax dollars and laying waste to the quality of health care. Education? Protected I’m afraid; in contravention of advice offered by this think tank, Britain’s higher education system will continue to be funded by the population at large rather than those who actually benefit from university. Foreign aid? Also protected.

The simple logic of having protected areas of the budget suggests that there must be more severe cuts elsewhere. But rather than face up to this reality, or drop the notion of protected areas, the Tories seem to be instead toning down initially aggressive rhetoric on balancing the books. I understand that political expediency is important, but so is running the country. Rather than making explicit promises to ‘cut the deficit, not the NHS’, Cameron could be discreet. It would leave him room to manoeuvre when cuts are being made. Just as distressing is the shadow universities secretary’s proposal to create an ‘inspectorate’ to ensure high standards. Bureaucracy doesn’t create high standards; competition and choice does. Mr. Cameron should know better.

The Tories are the party that have spoken with the most honesty on what needs to be done to revive the country’s economy. But this has been muddled by numerous contradictions. Those of us who’ve read our Atlas Shrugged know that when there appears to be a contradiction, we must check our premises. And indeed, the premise that Cameron intends meaningful cuts is seriously in doubt.

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