Away from the glossy spin now expected from team Rishi, there is a distinctly nervous reaction from the right’s ideological bastions. Delving into the details of the Chancellor’s spending review announcement, think tank responses range from at best unease to at worst some disdain for the government’s decision to double down on further increasing record levels of public spending. Is this the start of a growing gulf between wonk world and Number 10?
The Centre for Policy Studies are the warmest, claiming credit for the two most obvious examples of fiscal restraint within the announcement: the cut to international aid and the so-called public sector pay freeze. It’s clear however that the organisation, which was heavily involved in constructing the Tories’ successful 2019 manifesto, wants the government to more clearly return to the traditional Tory ground of letting the private sector drive the post-Covid recovery:
“But ultimately it will be the private sector, not the public, which digs us out of this economic hole – so as the pandemic recedes we urge the Chancellor to embrace pro-growth, pro-enterprise stimulus measures, such as tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire and invest.”
The ASI doesn’t hold back, accusing the government of a “public sector splurge” in spite of the ‘pay freeze’; and singling out the rise in the minimum wage as an “unforgivable”:
“This public sector spending splurge fails to put the United Kingdom onto a strong fiscal footing for the recovery. Rishi Sunak cannot tax our way out of debt or spend our way out of a recession”
“Increasing departmental budgets as the economy shrinks is just spending money we don’t have.”
“For the party of business, the lack of thought about their needs and the increase in costs they’re facing coming from the government, this is a massive and unforgivable oversight.”
Unfortunately for Rishi, the IEA goes in even harder, arguing that while the chancellor’s diagnosis of doom was correct, his pledges to boost departmental funding are “vague” and his support for apprentices, and extra work coaches are “retro policies drawn from dusty files last seen in the 1980s.”:
“Recovery from the recessions of the 1980s and 90s was not the result of extra government spending, but was rather associated with deregulation and freeing up markets. There was no sign of this in today’s announcement. Government intervention, however justified by health concerns, has created the current economic situation; the answer is not yet more intervention, but rather to allow businesses maximum freedom to reorient and rebuild.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance adds to the voiced concerns about Rishi’s fiscal splurge:
“The lack of focus on value for money in today’s spending review will no doubt disappoint taxpayers.
“Coronavirus has undeniably left a large hole in the nation’s finances. But instead of forever dipping back into taxpayers’ pockets, the government should prioritise policies to get the economy going.”
It’s clear a great many Tories – whether sitting quietly on the back benches or orbiting in wonk world – want a private sector-led recovery, and a definitive end to the endless splurge of taxpayer cash with little thought to the consequences. The question is whether Boris or Rishi will be brave enough to lead their new voters from the front, or surrender the battle of ideas entirely…