Tories prepare the ground for spending cuts

MOST governments leave behind an unwieldy in-tray, but Labour has laced the departments of Whitehall with landmines. That was the assessment of David Willets, the universities and science minister, upon finding that Lord Mandelson had announced large cuts to the universities budget without deciding where the axe would fall.

Elsewhere, Tory spinners talk of a “scorched earth” policy in the dying days of the Labour government, with ministers purposely ramping up spending in a bid to force their successors to make unpopular, swingeing cuts.

There’s no doubt that Labour has left the Tories a terrible economic inheritance; that we already know. The idea MPs did it with the sole intention of hurting the new government’s chances of re-election is going too far (after all, many Labour ministers thought they’d be able to cling to power themselves).

Instead the Tories are writing a careful narrative in the lead-up to the deepest spending cuts since World War Two. First comes the ministers’ pay cut; then reducing bonuses in the civil service; then a concerted effort to make sure that voters associate the pain they’re feeling with the last lot.

Creating an Office for Budget Responsibility serves a similar purpose. By commissioning an independent audit of the nation’s books, chancellor George Osborne is giving himself useful political cover for the impending cuts.

As well as painting Labour as an economically incompetent party, he is hoping to quell social unrest. Will it work? Take a look at Greece.