There’s a lot of talk online today about Cameron “Considering an extra £25bn in welfare cuts” – a horrific idea, especially following on from the half-million disabled people about to be denied their living allowance, the cuts to ESA, the cuts to income support, the cuts to child benefit… and so on.
These cuts would be unsustainable - it’s a ludicrous, vicious attack on public services for our most vulnerable.
And it’s never going to happen. That’s the point.
These stories do not get out by accident. Last week – and for many weeks before – we were talking about whether cuts were even necessary.
The Labour Party even seems to have – finally – caught on to the national (international?l) opposition to austerity (the recent shadow cabinet reshuffle being the latest indicator).
So why would the government release information that makes them even more unpopular?
Because now we’re talking about how much worse £25billion of cuts would be – cuts Cameron has no intention of making. Suddenly our debate has shifted – we’re not talking about whether any cuts are necessary, whether the entire austerity plan is failing – we’re debating how far he should be allowed to cut. We’re going to spend time and energy fighting this theoretical increase to the cuts (because we cannot allow things to get any worse!), and even if we win… we’re right back where we started; we haven’t stopped or reversed any of the existing austerity measures.
Which means that, however the debate turns out, the government gets to cut welfare spending. And it probably gets to cut welfare spending more than it originally planned, thanks to the nature of political compromise.
It’s a nasty bit of political spin which governments use all the time to shift the tone of a discussion away from areas they know they cannot win.
Don’t let them do this – the real debate isn’t “How severe should the cuts be?” but rather “Should the cuts be happening at all?”