Tomorrow is a big day for the RSA. We have our State of the Arts Conference, which we are holding in partnership with the Arts Council England. The aim is to place in the calendar an annual forum for high powered arts policy debate, one that will rival several such conferences for the broadcasting sector. 500 people have signed up and we have a fantastic line up of speakers. Let’s hope it stops snowing.
Partly to get my head into the right place for the event, I went this morning to a breakfast briefing with Ben Bradshaw. The discussion put this proposition in my mind:
Can anyone imagine one of the Party leaders saying this?
‘We have to make some very difficult decisions about public spending. We could make these decisions on the basis of what touches our emotions most here and now or by thinking clearly about what matters most to the long term welfare of our country. This is the critical judgement we must make and it is the ultimate measure of our capacity as a political party to lead.
So today I want to announce that we will implement a three year freeze in expenditure in the NHS, schools and policing. These services have enjoyed year on year funding increases for a decade. It is clear that with strong and careful management they can maintain service quality while making substantial savings. I won’t pretend they won’t have to make difficult decisions but in each of these areas there are opportunities for us as parents, patients, carers and neighbours to help these services deliver their social outcomes on tighter budgets.
With the money that will be freed up by this difficult decision we will protect and indeed increase our investment in the creative and knowledge sectors which offer the best – and maybe the only - hope for the UK to come out of this recession stronger and more competitive. So we will accelerate our plans to provide high speed broadband to all homes, services and businesses, we will increase funding for science, higher and further education and we will take steps to make the UK an even more attractive place to set up, locate and grow creative businesses. We will, for example, provide tax incentives to the video game industry, a fast expanding area in which we were until recently world leaders but in which we are in danger of falling behind.’
I know my Labour friends will say the Government is doing most of what is in the third paragraph. The problem is that it lacks credibility unless they are willing to face up to what is in the second. There’s no point having a great industrial strategy if the country is bankrupt and seen as a risky place in which to invest.
My political judgement - for what it’s worth - is that if a party leader said something like this it would lead the next day to some over the top doom and gloom headlines (plus predictable shroud waving from the BMA and teaching unions), but then to a major increase in the party’s credibility at a time when oters are, on the one hand, worried about the medium term prospects for the British economy (‘what jobs will be there for my children when they grow up?’) and on the other hand, are convinced no one is telling them the truth about the spending challenges ahead.