A Conservative debate on spending 

The opinion columns in the Sunday Telegraph give a glimpse of a debate British Conservatives are having now that they seem on the verge of winning a general election that must be held by June and that Republicans may have some time later: how to cut back government spending that has generated budget deficits exceeding 10% of gross domestic product. Conservative party leader David Cameron this month sent signals that a Conservative government might not cut spending back sharply, and has evoked different reactions from two veteran columnists.

Matthew D’Ancona, who has an insider’s knowledge of the goings on in parliamentary politics, is not so alarmed by what he calls Cameron’s “jittery January.” Conclusion:

“The proximity of power is nerve-jangling to those whose lives are dedicated to its acquisition and retention. The ever-greater scrutiny that an Opposition faces this close to an election compounds the problem. But that's the name of the game, folks. That's what they all signed up to. They want to govern us, after all. They want to pass laws, set taxes, whizz around in motorcades, decide whether or not to go to war: stuff like that. The least they could do in return is to butch up.”

In contrast, Janet Daley, who grew up in Berkeley, California, but has lived in Britain for decades, thinks that Cameron has flinched disastrously. Her lead:

“There is no point in trying to minimise what happened to the Tory party last week. That was no wobble, it was a fiasco. It was not a casual semantic slip that made David Cameron appear to renege on what has been the most significant difference between his party and Labour. What he did was to state quite explicitly that Tory policy on public spending cuts had gone from radical and immediate to ‘certainly not swingeing’.

“This looked like – and indeed was, if Mr Cameron is to be taken at his word – a major loss of political nerve. It is difficult to assess which aspect of it was more damaging: the actual substantive change of policy, which suggests that he is truly out of touch with reality on the need for drastic spending cuts, or the terrible presentational effect of such a climbdown, which will tend to confirm the suspicion that he will not stand by any principle that puts his popularity at risk.”

American readers of a conservative stripe may want to pay more attention to this debate than we—or at least I—have been doing over the last politically turbulent month. There is politics east of Massachusetts.

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Michael Barone

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