I ran into a Tory frontbencher about a week ago who said he had had been asked to go through his department with a fine toothcomb to find potential savings which could be made after the general election.
I asked if he had seen John Redwood’s blog suggesting that cuts of 10 per cent could be instigated without too much pain. He replied that he had got close to that number without too much difficulty.
The FT house view is that politicians would be better off coming clean about the deficit – and need for sweeping departmental cuts – rather than dancing around on the head of a national insurance pin. In private, Labour and the Tories alike must be drawing up the slide rule over which programmes, benefits or salary bills to cut and when: surely?
Don’t expect the manifesto from either party to recognise this, however. The troops are still in their trenches; the real fiscal war hasn’t happened yet.
UPDATE at 12.08pm
Nick Robinson gets the first question. He asks why the manifesto has no reference to the fact that Britain will have to do less and spend less.
Brown’s reply: Labour has set out its plans to reduce the deficit. “I don’t think any party could have been clearer.” Many will beg to differ.
UPDATE at 12.15pm
The excellent Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 asks the PM if the deficit is the “elephant in the room“. Still no clear answer.
The manifesto talks about “tough choices” for £15bn efficiency savings in 2010-11 and a further £11bn of further operational efficiencies by 2012-13. These aren’t tough choices: they are the easier ones.