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Supporters of the smaller state have failed to make the moral case for cuts

    Lewis James Brown, Web 2.0 Manager at the CPS, considers the Occupy protests in London and concludes that supporters of smaller government have failed to build on the pre-election calls of writers like Fraser Nelson and Janet Daley to convince the electorate of the moral case for a smaller state.

    Daniel Hannan has posted an excellent blog at The Telegraph outlining why the Occupy Protestors have chosen the wrong target for their ire. As he points out, what has taken place since 2008 is anything but capitalism, the ‘too big to fail’ ethos being contrary to the competitive requirements of a capitalist system.

    This is not just limited to bank bail-outs. As Allister Heath pointed out at the CPS event ‘Reducing Barriers to Economic Growth’, we have a social democratic economy where public spending is over half of GDP, with high rates of taxation and debt that will continue to rise over the course of this parliament. The £75bn print off that is quantitative easing will only continue this course and push inflation upwards even more (whether this is being done intentionally or not is another argument).

    So why are the Occupy protests led (in the majority) by people who believe the state should play a larger role in our lives: spending more, taking more tax, favouring wealth distribution over innovators and entrepreneurs? More importantly, why do the majority of the public feel that the cuts are unfair, with women voters particularly (£) feeling this?

    Quite clearly, Conservatives and other believers in the smaller state have failed to make the moral case for cuts. As CPS board member Fraser Nelson and Research Fellow Janet Daley pointed out in the run-up to the General Election, the debate had been framed in the narrative of Tory spending cuts versus Labour investment. While this was clearly a falsehood being peddled by Gordon Brown’s top team at the time, both writers felt this was an excellent opportunity for David Cameron to set out the morality of a smaller state in the face of the failing system of spend-and-borrow pursued over 13 years of Labour.

    Andrew Tyrie, speaking at our ‘Be Bold For Cuts’ event made clear that he would be making the case for spending reduction even if the economy was in a good position and the deficit already under control. This is nothing new, even John Major in 1996 set out the moral case for a smaller state, a prescience that was to be ignored under Blair and Brown.

    But that virtuous message has not been heard loudly enough in the electorate, and it is in this that supporters of the smaller state cause have failed. While the Conservatives won the political argument of late 2009 by forcing Labour to admit they would have to cut the economy too, it came at a cost of shaping the cuts as something to be dreaded – a necessary evil that would only last as long as the deficit continued to spiral out of control. The moral case was lost in the face of creating a political narrative around necessity. As David Cameron and Nick Clegg wrote, “We didn’t get into politics to balance the books” (original co-authored article missing from Telegraph website).

    Where does this leave us come 2015? A Labour government elected on the back of their opposition to cuts or a Conservative government, having got the deficit under control, bound to increase spending by the nature of the debate.

    There is much to agree with at the Occupy protests – we have been let down by our politicians, the state that runs our lives is out of control, our tax revenues have been abused on saving failing institutions, the influence of corporatism and state monopoly capitalism on our economy is too great. But our only hope to reverse the cycle is deeper cuts to this titanic state, only then will we free our economy and ourselves to realise our full potential.

    As the CPS and Fraser Nelson have both pointed out, the scale of the ‘cuts’ is modest at best, and not far off from that proposed by then-Chancellor Alastair Darling. The Coalition Government has begun the first vital step of reducing the deficit. However, debt continues to grow as borrowing increases, and this makes deeper and long lasting cuts an economic necessity.

    What more on the right must be prepared to do is argue the long term case for freedom of the individual from the state. We must make the public see the immorality of high taxation, of burdening future generations with high debt, of strangling growth with state spending, of over-regulating and over-legislating people’s lives, and at least talking about a giant supranational organisation with little democracy but a large tax bill (clue: it begins with E). Only true capitalism, hand in hand with a liberated society can pull Britain permanently out of the mess we’re in.

    America’s Heritage Foundation set out their moral case against big government in 2007:

    To advocate good government is to recognize the indispensable role that political authority plays in a healthy community. To advocate limited government is to understand that not everything necessary for a community to be healthy is the responsibility of government. A good but limited government is one that serves its citizens by exercising well its particular task and refraining from other tasks. Essential to government's particular task is ensuring that other social institutions are free to exercise their own particular tasks.”

    Time is running out to save the argument for the smaller state, and prevent the debate from becoming one of social democracy versus the vision of those at the Occupy protests.

    Lewis joined the Centre for Policy Studies in April 2011 with responsibility for social media and digital engagement.

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