'It's the deficit, stupid', Cameron and Clegg tell recalcitrant ministers

The dream team has written to ministers, asking them to focus on spending cuts. As if they needed reminding...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have written a letter explaining that there isn’t a lot of money about, which may appear like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. The letter emphasises the fact that reducing the deficit is the ‘most urgent issue facing Britain’, so everything they do from now on should come down to the bottom line. A sort of 'never mind the quality, feel the price' type of message. As long as ministers focus on decentralising power and governing ‘for the long term’, the deficit will drop, says the letter. How one follows automatically from the other is open to question. But with a punchy message like that, Cameron hasn’t left much room for qualms over what the coalition’s goals are…
The letter is an attempt to soften up some departments who were reported to be wrangling with the Treasury over the extent of cuts they’ll have to endure in the Spending Review scheduled for October. This promises to be the bloodiest set of negotiations for decades: it looks like it will make facing off against Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson look like a walk in the park. There’s no doubt Cameron plans to perform some major surgery,  saying it’s important to ‘make the difficult decisions necessary to equip Britain for long-term success’, and explaining that for now, at least, the Government’s sole purpose should be to slash the deficit.

The pair are fairly clear about what they want their departments’ focus to be: they hint that any minister who ‘ensures this purpose is felt across your departments’ will be looked upon favourably in October. A bit like asking a turkey to take part in the Christmas celebrations, really: few are likely to relish this, the exception being the old warhorse Ken Clarke, who is causing consternation by wielding the knife over his Justice Department with what used to be termed gay abandon. Clarke was never squeamish when it came to tough decisions.  

The letter adds that there are two ‘major shifts in our political and national life’ ministers should be focusing on. Firstly, a ‘radical redistribution of power from Government to communities and people’ will create decentralisation which, says Cameron, the country urgently needs. The second ‘fundamental change’ is that ‘unlike previous governments’, Cameron plans to stay in power ‘for the long term’. That’s admirable optimism and there’s nothing like a bit of blue-sky thinking to motivate your employees, but the longevity of this government is by no means guaranteed.

First past the post on cost-cutting is the Central Office of Information, the body in charge of marketing and ad spend for the Government, which has announced it will cut 40% of its staff - that's 300 people. It's a shame, but it does make you question what exactly the Government was doing employing 700 advertising staff in the first place.

The truth about cost-cutting is twofold. Firstly, the cuts have to be made now, before the Big Society idea can take shape. That might require years. Secondly, an authoritarian, centralised control structure is probably the best way to administer painful cost reduction. This is what is known as the JFDI (Just ******* Do It) school of management. It’s not MT’s style - but when needs must…  

In today's bulletin:
Even Northern Rock is seeing loan book improve
'It's the deficit, stupid', Cameron and Clegg tell ministers
A bushel and a peck: wheat prices rise by half
The Milkybars could be on you as Nestle taps nostalgia vote
Editor's blog: The not-so-green green grass of home

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