I keep seeing concerned Facebook messages and letters to Lib Dem News about the ambition set out by Nick Clegg to lower taxes. I've seen the message from the Beveridge Group about this, and Richard Grayson is right that it is a policy shift.
I think I'm on the other side, though. I don't think, and I don't think the Lib Dem pre-manifesto implies, that we should give any less priority to public services. The trouble with simply accepting Gordon Brown's spending levels as they are, without any demur, is that:
1. We have to accept without question his view of efficiency: the unprecedented increase in public spending since 2001, with very little to show for it - because it is delivered centrally, through a target and control system that renders local services increasingly distant and ineffective. Anyone who works in the public and voluntary sector will be aware of the staggering waste of resources by centralised, unaccountable quangos. The truth is that New Labour centralisation is making our public services less effective and this needs to be at the centre of our message. Simply accepting current budgets as they lets the government off this crucial hook.
2. We have to accept without question his white elephants: the £12bn on the NHS computer, similar amounts on ID cards, £70bn just to decommission nuclear reactors, even more to replace Trident and underwrite a new generation of nuclear reactors. And Iraq. Simply accepting current budgets means we have nothing to say about these, except the principle of the ideas - nothing to say about the vast waste of money.
Thrift is a core Liberal value, albeit rather a forgotten one. If we have ambitions about reducing the overall level of tax - and I think we should at the moment - they have to be part of a much larger ambition, to localise public services and make them effective, and to reveal New Labour spending as bogus, destructive and wasteful.
But if we accept their budgets as they are, we can't say any of that.
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