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London Comment - The Cuts

I want to paint a picture for you of Britain next week. Imagine us as old and infirm, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, staggering towards the axeman who waits with shining blade. The axeman in this case is our Treasury Secretary, and the country's date with this executioner is on Wednesday. He has promised, indeed the whole British Government has promised, that the cuts required to balance our terrible public spending deficit will be savage -- at least twenty five percent in most departments -- leaving us with benefits cut to nothing, hundreds of thousands tossed out of work, and our armed services consisting of a couple of leaky wooden boats and those nice old gentlemen in funny uniforms at the Tower of London. This impression suits the new coalition Government quite well. They have been able to establish in the public mind that the budget overspend is all the fault of the previous government, and that the previous government are equally to blame for the dramatic cuts that have to follow. The plan is clearly to give us the unpleasant medicine now, and relax the purse as we get closer to the next election and the economy picks up, thus taking the credit for the pleasure but not for the pain. But remember the vital part of that plan is that the British economy should pick up, and that jobs should be created. And remember too how vital a part the public sector plays in any economy. Remember too the importance of our armed forces to the government, as well as to our allies such as you. So on Wednesday, when those public spending cuts are finally published, when the old Generals have exploded with indignation, when the trade union leaders have promised revolution and the charities have told us of the despair of their cliients ... just wait a while and take a closer look at the figures. My gut feeling is that its not going to be quite that bad -- that public spending will be left high enough to keep the economic wheels turning -- that pensioners will still be given money to keep warm at night -- that even the defence budget, which more than any other seems to be running out of control, will be cut by less than feared. Even if this country's long term military strength will have to diminish, there will still be enough money to equip our soldiers who fight beside yours. It is, after all, easy to talk tough about wielding the axe but far harder to swing it. This is Peter Allen for CBS News in London.
Peter Allen