29 Nov 2011

Do tough times bind the coalition tighter and longer?

It now looks pretty certain that we will get a public spending round for 2016 and 2017. I’m told George Osborne wants one and the Lib Dems in government also accept they need one for credibility with the markets. We now have a new, additional and painful cash envelope in today’s autumn statement – a real terms 0.9 per cent in real terms cuts for 2015-16 and 2016-17. The coalition has effectively already started shading in the cash envelope but there is, on current numbers, £24bn still to colour in. The significance of that?

It means the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, dragged somewhat by economic events, are being tied together in detailed policy that stretches way beyond the election. That could have enormous effect on how they go into the next election – if not bound together then allied and, as things stand, unified in a common stance against Labour.

Nick Clegg did get some figures within his party lobbying him against relentless austerity in the weeks before the autumn statement. But one minister said they were “pretty much usual suspects” and “not terribly significant in wider terms.”

By the way, the austerity policies were always going to impact hugely on public sector workers but it’s worth remembering just how many of them you find in the Lib Dem ranks.

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