In the wake of the Paris attacks, the Met have issued strong warnings to the Chancellor around police cuts. Some of the planned cuts to the police have been spelled out by Lord Blair, the former Met commissioner in some pretty stark words:
“This is the most perilous terrorist threat in our history. The British police, with their long successful track record in counter-terrorism, have adapted well to the changing circumstances and, at the last moment, the very best defences they have built, the neighbourhood teams and the fast and accurate response to multi-site concurrent attacks, are being downgraded. People die this way. Governments fall. Remember Madrid in 2004 and think again.”
What interests me about this scenario is that it lies directly on the fault line of the right of British politics: is the point of government to make itself smaller under all circumstances, or is this to be tempered in the case of national security? The tax credits debate showed a division between the cutters and the wets, but this one is more essential and has much more potential to cause real rifts on the centre-right. It is hard for government to be minimal and yet able to protect its citizens in a time of a security crisis such as that we are witnessing. Although this is unspoken and mostly not admitted within Tory circles, the ability to limit government is only even theoretically possible in times of peace and stability.
This problem for the Right would be acute at the moment were it not for the fact that they have been gifted Corbyn, a Labour leader who has gone out of his way to explain how he wouldn’t really be interested in public security if he was prime minister. A better Labour leader would be all over this at the moment, exposing the Conservative’s problems on this, arguing that Tory cuts and smaller government lead directly to a higher risk of Paris-like incidents occurring (whether this true or not, I’m not commenting on here – I’m simply pointing out that it would be a powerful narrative for the Left to argue, one that would be believable if pushed hard enough).
How Osborne squares this circle, I don’t know. In the end, he can’t possibly be seen to be endangering the lives of innocent British citizens for the sake of trying to balance the budget, whatever happens. The UK public wants sound finances – but they will not prioritise this over their own safety. His plans to cut the deficit just got more complicated, at a time when he probably didn’t any more headaches on that front, post-tax credits fiasco.