Savage is not too strong a word to describe the 2010 Conservative Party Conference. The Tories (along with Nick Clegg, the third most influential right-winger in British politics) have certainly started with a vengeance which is no doubt how they intend to continue.
And it’s not just about child benefit where Cameron’s political antennae seemed to disappear down a very large hole. Cutting child benefit for higher rate taxpayers was always going to create a storm, made much worse in this instance by the insanity of allowing couples where both worked and both earned less than the higher rate tax threshold to both keep their child benefit. This would have meant that a double earner family would receive vastly more child benefit that one where one parent stayed at home to look after the children.
Cameron and Osborne got it so badly wrong that I see that they are now having to make amends.
Sadly and tragically, it’s not just about what went on at the Tories’ annual conference. The BBC website today reports that Universities UK (UUK), with whom I have had quite a bit of contact over the years, warn that cuts proposed for the higher education sector could see the UK lose its position as a world leader in education. In their submission to the government’s comprehensive spending review (CSR), they also state that “misplaced and “mistimed” cuts would impact on future economic growth and prosperity.
The Treasury has asked government departments to look at cuts between 25% and 40% by 2015. The UUK makes it clear that although, “The UK currently has the second strongest university system in the world … as the latest global rankings make clear, this position could be at risk if we do not invest now.”
I think this is more than enough damage and destruction to be getting on with, especially since it impacts so enormously on our future as a country and on our children. But this is obviously not the Tories’ view.
Yesterday, National Theatre head Sir Nicholas Hynter joined his colleague Sir Nicholas Serota, warning in the Evening Standard that cuts to arts funding could destroy our cultural life. Thirty years ago 60 percent of the National Theatre’s funding came from public sources; it’s now only 30 percent. Sir Nicholas also believes that regional and “fringe” institutions will close if there are swingeing cuts.
Culture and the arts are enormously important for their own sake, for the pleasure they bring and the way they enhance the quality of the way we live. However, there are also strong economic reasons for a vibrant cultural and artistic life. Culture generates money. The cultural industries in London are the second largest employer after financial services. Cameron, Osborne and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Bunt would do well to bear this in mind before they turn this country into a complete cultural desert.