A week into the campaign and it is clear what the two defining issues of this General Election campaign are: Brexit (obviously) and public spending. As each day passes it seems ever larger sums are being pledged to every service under the sun, from education to health to transport. Both parties are trying to capitalise on the austerity fatigue that the electorate have felt over the last few years and are undoing a generation’s worth of political consensus on fiscal conservatism in the process.
Labour’s spending pledges are to be expected. A campaign that includes renationalisation, universal basic income, and a 32-hour working week was never going to be cheap to run. This week Chancellor Sajid Javid claimed Labour’s plans amount to a whopping £1.2tn price tag, a number that is now being disputed in a fiscal back and forth. Javid appears to have combined the costs of Labour’s 2017 manifesto with their current policy pledges which is a little dubious. But regardless of whether this is the correct number, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Labour are promising a spending spree. But to repeat, this was expected – this is Corbyn’s Labour.
More interesting perhaps is the Conservative’s approach to spending which, whilst more cautious than Labour’s, still includes considerable amounts of cash. They appear to have thrown their platform of fiscal responsibility out of the window, promising an extra £20bn a year on capital projects, and £34bn on health over the next three years. Politically, it’s a shrewd move that recognises that the public mood against more cuts to services are unlikely to respond well to anything but an injection of cash. But in the longer term, the Chancellor – who has a photo of Maggie Thatcher above his desk – is tearing up one of the most enduring parts of her legacy.
The Conservatives are now walking a tightrope, simultaneously offering serious amounts of money whilst also painting Labour as irresponsible for their spending pledges. Labour meanwhile will want to be the face of public service revitalisation, positioning themselves as the party that will fund beloved pillars of UK life, such as the NHS. They will try and convince voters that the spending offered by the Conservatives is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Whatever the spin, the reality of it is that, as a political generation, we are entering an era of big spending and whoever comes out on top, all eyes will be on them to see whether these promises will be fulfilled.