U.K. budgeting

Austerity Redux


When right and left unite in the U.S., it usually bodes a massive expansion of government. But that doesn't seem to be happening in Great Britain, where a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has been in power since May. So far Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is insisting on spending cuts, while Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is standing firm on campaign promises to curtail the government's trespasses on civil liberties, including national ID cards, the country's notorious libel laws, restrictions on protests, and ubiquitous government surveillance cameras.

Back in May, promising "a bonfire of unnecessary laws," the new government launched a website encouraging citizens to suggest oppressive and invasive laws and regulations to eliminate. In words rarely heard from any politician, much less a ruling one, Clegg told The Independent, "This government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state."

The Daily Telegraph reported in September that the coalition is following through on those promises with a plan to ax 77 taxpayer-funded programs, to consider 94 others for elimination, and to merge 129 more. Also up for cuts: quangos, or quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organizations—semi-private entities to which the state has devolved some of its powers.

An unnamed "senior Whitehall source" told the paper, "These reforms represent the most significant rolling back of bureaucracy and the state for decades. Our starting point has been that every quango must not only justify its existence but its reliance on public money."