Osborne is having the time of his life, slashing back the state whilst attempting to place the blame for what he is doing on the previous administration.
Liberal Democrat ministers have warned that the Conservatives will inflict lasting political damage to Nick Clegg's party if voters think the coalition Government is relishing the task of cutting public spending.
Although the Cabinet has agreed to try to blame the cuts on its inheritance from Labour, senior Lib Dems are worried that some Tory politicians – including George Osborne, the Chancellor – give the impression they are on a Thatcherite mission to shrink the state.
One Liberal Democrat minister warned yesterday: “If we look as though we are enjoying it, we’re dead. We have to take people with us.”Another minister from Mr Clegg’s party said: “Some of the language coming out of the Treasury is causing concern. We have to remember that we are talking about the jobs of real people and vital services that people depend on.”
The problem with that strategy is that the public are not fools. We recognise this as essentially what the Tories always want to do when they get into power, they cut public services and, when possible, lower the taxes of the better off.
The danger for the Liberal Democrats is that they are being asked to give political cover for this Thatcherite agenda.
Many people, myself amongst them, welcomed Clegg's decision to form a government with the Tories as we believed that the Lib Dems would hold back the very worst of the Tories excesses. So far, this plan does not appear to have been realistic. The Lib Dems, until now, have been providing cover for Tory excesses rather than opposing and stopping them.
Anxiety about the spending squeeze is also growing on the Liberal Democrat backbenches. Three MPs – Bob Russell, Mike Hancock and Adrian Sanders – have signed a Commons motion expressing concern that almost one million people, including 170,000 pensioners, will lose an average of £12 a week from cuts in housing benefit announced by Mr Osborne. It says that he is hitting the unemployed the hardest.
The MPs joined forces with Labour backbenchers to call on the Government “not to proceed with policies which will force those on low incomes to leave their homes and existing communities”. They warn that there is a real risk the benefit cuts will push hundreds of thousands of people into poverty, debt and even on to the streets if they are evicted from their homes.
The noises coming from the Lib Dem backbenches gives some vague hope that the rank and file might force Clegg to do what he has so far manifestly failed to do: stop Osborne from carrying out this Thatcherite assault on public services.
Clegg's credibility is falling faster than a stone flung off a mountain. I found myself screaming at the TV last night as Clegg claimed that he decided cuts had to happen sooner rather than later before polling day. He, of course, had campaigned throughout the election campaign arguing that early cuts would be disastrous.
His position is simply not credible. It's odd, but I actually am much angrier with Clegg than I am with Cameron or Osborne. Cameron and Osborne are doing what the Tories have done since time immemorial. It is Clegg who is now saying that black is white.
The Deputy Prime Minister told a BBC Two documentary last night on how the coalition was formed that he did not change his mind during the negotiations with the Tories after the election resulted in a hung parliament.
“I changed my mind earlier than that... between March and the actual general election, a financial earthquake occurred in on our European doorstep." Asked why he did not announce his change of heart, he told the BBC political editor Nick Robinson: “Ah, to be fair we were all I think reacting to very very fast-moving economic events.”
Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow Chief Secretary, said: “This shows Nick Clegg simply misled voters. He’d clearly decided before the election that David Cameron was his partner of choice.”
It is Clegg who is now claiming that he changed his mind before election day but simply failed to inform the electorate of his change of heart.
The Liberal Democrats have lost one third of their supporters since the election, with most of them defecting to Labour. I don't find that remotely surprising.
Clegg has seriously misled everyone about who he is and what he believes.
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