Most of the time Labour wrongly claims Conservatives cut spending. Maybe Labour claims are an appropriate topic on April Fool’s day. These claims usually become more extreme and absurd at election time. I thought a few facts might help inform the debate.
Throughout the Thatcher years in office, 1979 to 1990, Labour claimed the Conservatives were making deep cuts. Total managed expenditure was £315bn in 1978-79, the last Labour year (in 2007-8 prices). In her last year in office spending reached £358.6bn (in 2007-8 prices). In other words real spending, spending after allowing for inflation, had risen by 14% during the Thatcher years.
John Major was also attacked for Tory cuts, though less personally than Mrs Thatcher. By the time he left government in 1997, spending had risen to £410.8bn (2007-8 prices), a further real increase of 14.6% over his period in office. Conservatives always increased real spending on the NHS, appreciating the popularity of the free at the point of use principle behind this service.
Labour continued with real increases in spending during their time in office, boosting the rate of increase considerably in the later years after a more prudent start. The Coalition has increased total managed spending from £669.7bn in the last Labour year to £732 bn in 2014-15, a small real increase and a 9.4% cash increase. The Coalition, like its Conservative and Labour predecessors, always increased the NHS in real terms.
The issue we should be debating is not the quantity of money overall, but what we get for the money we do spend. Instead of having endless debates about how much real increase there has been, and who might offer the larger increase, we need debates about who can get best value for the money we spend. The debates should be more about what public service we want, not how much do we want to spend. When you go out to buy things for yourself you do not insist on spending up to budget, or insist on a real terms increase in your spending. You try to buy what you want for the lowest price, and are pleased if you get something better for less.