Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Government options for cuts; reaction on the march in the C of E

Who’d have thought anything as anorakish as a spending review could create so much interest? Much of this interest has been fuelled by the press; and for once I don’t criticise them. They have supplied much analysis and information to enable us to consider circumstances for ourselves.

And now (with the review due next week) they’ve gone into overdrive; in part, forcing the hands of ministers. Cleggie, anxious to pour honey over the bitterness of his many broken promises, announced a pupil premium to help poorer pupils. Quick as a flash the press started asking: ‘Will this money come from elsewhere in the schools budget?’ So (again quick as a flash) the government had to announce that the schools budget (not the education budget, by the way) will be protected.

Now this is interesting, isn’t it? Every time something contentious has come up, D Cameron has made a point of protecting it . . . police numbers, free bus passes, now schools, child benefit - well not child benefit, to protect that was just an election pledge.

Cameron has spent most of his premiership so far on PR; he doesn’t want bad news. But how’s he going to avoid it? The schools protection and pupil premium with the, as I understand it, proposed smaller defence cuts, could be reckoned to amount to some 18 bn gpb. This is quite a proportion of the targeted 83 bn gbp.

The options open to the government, now, are to make much bigger cuts elsewhere (and education as a whole has not been ring-fenced) or to go for a smaller figure of retrenchment. The latter option might be attractive; although Boy George would get a lot of stick, and it would be embarrassing for the Conservatives, that story would quickly disappear, massaged by lighter cuts. But I don’t think this will be palatable to them.

This means bigger cuts elsewhere. Even the Conservatives, who seem to have done little planning before the election, must be concerned about the effect of cuts on growth and unemployment. Unemployment is a major indicator and rising unemployment is always bad-news headlines; but let’s remember rising unemployment didn’t stop Margaret Thatcher. The attractive place (for the government) to cut is welfare; IDS has been sweetened already, so we could be in for some really bad news on welfare cuts. And this could be on other universal benefits.

On a completely different subject we see that the forces of reaction are on the march again in the C of E. Traditionalists (those who don’t approve of women bishops but can’t now get rid of them) reckon they have stitched up enough seats to take the reins of power in the Synod. This will mean restricting the role of women bishops for no other reason than that they are women.

Personally I don’t give a b****r about the C of E and its synod except for one reason. The Synod is a traditional powerbase; they have a powerful voice. And a powerful voice can effect change; this will not be change for the better. So I do give a b****r.

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