Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Tory Logic: Defence Spending is Pitiful. That's why we we won't raise it.

Liam Fox has done a great job in criticising the government on defence. He was behind this headline in the Telegraph last year:

Defence Spending is Lowest Since the 1930s

and this one in the Financial Times in January:

Tories Press National Audit Office on Defence Spending.

Fox has tirelessly fought his corner, arguing that with two major wars in operation, government spending is woefully inadequate. He said of the government's level of spending:

"To drop to this level of our national wealth seems absolutely crazy. We have a smaller navy than the French and our ships are being mothballed. What a triumph for new Labour."

What a triumph indeed. So it must have been with some distaste that Fox went to announce that the Tories would not increase defence spending.

So why did this happen?

Well as I said here, Osbornes commitment to overall levels of government spending means that any Tory commitment in one area of government, necessarily means a cut in another. The Tories were deliberately dithering over which area to raise and which to cut for some time. Each shadow spokesman warily eyed the other as they went into Cameron's office. 

So when Andrew Lansley publicly committed his party to an increase of £28 million in health spending, the shadow cabinet must have kicked off in style.

Cameron's first reaction was to blame the story on mis-reporting.  ConservativeHome also rode in to the rescue and tried to put the announcement down the memory hole

Unfortunately for them the cat was out of the bag. All of the papers ran with the story and the impression that the Tories would increase spending was out there.

Faced with this situation Cameron had to make a cut. Not willing to cut services in real terms, Cameron had no choice but to cut planned increases elsewhere.

So Liam Fox's defence increases had to take that chop.

Although wounded in battle, Fox took a falling swipe at his fellow shadow cabinet member. Asked about Lansley's comments by the Telegraph,  Fox replied:

"I just think it is a timely reminder of the need to be very disciplined and careful when discussing any spending plans."

I think we can imagine what disipline Fox would really like to exercise.

No comments: