David Cameron says Tory austerity programme should have gone further despite 'hysterical' critics

Posted On: 
17th September 2019

David Cameron has slammed "hysterical" critics of his government's decision to cut public spending, as he argued he should have gone further.

David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne in 2016.

The former Prime Minister said he should have "ripped the plaster off" earlier in his premiership and introduced steeper cuts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

And he claimed that critics of the swingeing programme of fiscal belt-tightening had acted as though the Conservatives had "reinstated the workhouse".

Sajid Javid promises to ‘turn page on austerity’ with £13.8bn extra cash in Spending Round

'To cut spending in a slump is just wrong': Lord Skidelsky on austerity and why Keynes matters

Jeremy Hunt says David Cameron was a 'genius' for getting public to accept austerity

While spending on health, pensions and overseas aid rose under the Cameron-led coalition government, there were steep cuts to most other areas of state spending, with welfare, justice and local government hit by hefty reductions.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly criticised the Conservatives over the cuts programme and vowed to roll it back if he enters Number 10.

Writing in his memoirs, which are being serialised by The Times, the ex-PM said the "economic rescue job" following the banking crash had been his "biggest test" in Number 10.

And Mr Cameron said: "My assessment now is that we probably didn’t cut enough.

"We could have done more, even more quickly, as smaller countries like Ireland had done, to get Britain back in the black and then get the economy moving. Those who were opposed to austerity were going to be opposed — and pretty hysterically — to whatever we did. 

"Given all the hype and hostility, and yes, sometimes hatred, we might as well have ripped the plaster off with more cuts early on. We were taking the flak for them anyway. We should have taken advantage of the window of public support for cuts when it was open."

Defending the scale of the cuts, he added: "We were cutting just £1 in every £100 spent, but you’d think we had reinstated the workhouse."

The ex-Tory leader also claimed that Boris Johnson, who has pumped money back into policing, schools and the NHS since becoming Prime Minister, had failed to get fully on board with the Conservative cuts programme. 

"Boris had little to add to the rescue effort except a metaphor, this time complaining about our ‘hair shirt, Stafford Cripps agenda’ after Labour’s dour post-war austerity Chancellor," Mr Cameron said.

But Mr Cameron said he had been "vindicated" by record employment figures that left the economy "going gangbusters".

The full-throated defence of the Tory programme came as Commons Speaker John Bercow suggested that austerity had helped contribute to the 2016 vote for Brexit.

Mr Bercow told students in New York that it was a "reasonable guestimate" to assume that the cuts had played a part in Britain's vote to leave the EU.

"That I think is a very fair point," he said.

"There will be people who voted in the referendum purely on the matter of sovereignty, but there will be a lot of people who voted on the basis of their economic circumstances."