Sunday, 11 January 2009

Cameron reveals Tory spending plans

In an interview with the BBC today, DC gave the first specifics on the Opposition's planned reductions in public spending since announcing that the Tories would not be keeping to Labour's spending plans. DC revealed that the Tories would increase government spending to £645bn next year, as opposed to the Government's planned increase to £650bn. This figure actually means very little. The Tories know that such a small reduction should see off any attacks made by Labour along the same old lines about 'Tory cuts', but is also very aware that there is very little chance of the PM calling an election before the summer of 2010. This means DC can keep certain backbenchers in check - these are the same MPs who were calling for drastic cuts in public spending long before the announched ditching of Labour's spending plans. If you watched today's interview clearly, you should have noticed a few well-placed winks and nudges to these potential rebels. Not least, an expression of regret that the decision to ditch the Government's spending plans had not been taken earlier; an implicit acknowledgement that they had been right all along. Notice also DC's response when asked if voters should now expect an incoming Tory administration to slash public spending and cut taxes - "That's not what [voters] should be thinking. They should be thinking this would be a responsible government that would make government live within its means, that would relieve some of the debt burden being piled up on our children" - that's a 'Yes' for anyone not versed in lingua politico.

In any case, the hints seem to have done the trick. One MP boasted today that it had been backbench pressure which had forced DC to make the radical move of abandoning Labour's spending plans, and that it was now clear that a future Tory Government would be making cuts much bigger than the ones announced today.

Milburn to tackle social mobility

It has been announced today that former Cabinet minister Alan Milburn has been asked to chair a new commission on social mobility for the government. Too little too late, I'm afraid. Social mobility, despite grossly expensive and vastly complex government initiatives, has improved only fractionally in Britain since 1997. With unemployment widely predicted to rise to the magic 3 million mark, the PM obviously wants to look as if he's taking the issue of people getting into good jobs very seriously - hence his assigning one of Labour's big guns (and one of Brown's biggest enemies) to the role.

The problem is that Labour have simply equated social mobility with academic achievement. Why are the government so obsessed with the notion that everyone has to go to university in order to make anything of their lives? This great fallacy has misled a whole generation of young people. By setting a target of half of young people to go to university, thousands of students are being conned into thinking that they are better placed to get a 'good' job and earn more money.
Whilst for some students this is true, for others it is seriously misleading; leaving them jobless and saddled with debt. It is a fact of life that some people are better are some things, whilst others are better at others - it is foolish to think that we can all excel in the same field. Since coming to power, Labour has systematically relegated careers which do not require a university degree to such an extent that many young people believe that their very future rest on whether or not they attend university. And all the time the government has been concentrating on encouraging students of 'surf studies' and the suchlike, perfectly respectable jobs have gone wanting - that's the potential of thousands of young people simply squandered. It is little wonder the PM is this week having to persuade big companies into taking on graduates as short-term interns, rather than full-time employees - there are simply too many people vying for too few positions; and with the credit crunch looming, that situation is only going to get worse.

If the government was really serious about tackling unemployment, it would reexamine its definition of 'social mobility' and launch a serious policy on apprenticeships. We shouldn't have any class hang-ups about this - anybody, from whatever background, should be able to go to university if that is the route to which they are suited. For facilitating this, the government deserves credit. But they've massively overdone it. Why depreciate perfectly good careers by placing such an emphasis on having a degree that many employers won't even hold in high regard? Surely by doing so, the government actually harms rather than improves social mobility. We need a government that actually nutured the skills of individuals - that's how people raise themselves up to their full potentials.