Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has expressed concern about the the Conservative Party’s desire to have ‘austerity for ever’. It has taken him a little time to notice. David Cameron gave a speech over a year ago arguing for a permanently ‘leaner’ state.
I argued at the time that it has never been about austerity. Austerity is about saving money. The Welfare State was founded in a society where resources were excessively scarce, where food was still rationed; the NHS was a model of austerity. Transferring resources and responsibility to the private sector is something quite different – not to mention more expensive. Nor is it about the deficit: if George Osborne was serious about reducing the deficit, he would be looking to increase taxes or otherwise to increase government income. This is part of a long-standing commitment to roll back the frontiers of the state – in Alexander’s words, “an ideological demand, not an economic necessity”.