We are not, as regular readers will have noted, great believers in the perspicacity of Polly Toynbee, the grande dame of the British left. However, when she does get something right it's worth pointing out that she has got something right:
They plan to cut the size of the state permanently to 36% of GDP, from 45% in 2010. New faces in No 10 and 11 Downing Street are only casting changes for the same old script, ideologically identical. How far can they go? That’s the only question: with an 18-point poll lead they may imagine nothing can stop them squeezing the breath out of public services – except hubris.
Of course there's more than just a tad of rhetorical hyperbole there but she is right about one point, the underlying basic one. This is ideologically driven.
Different people have different ideas about what makes up the good society. Sorting through whose ideas should be enacted is the purpose of democracy. We've had a number of elections in recent decades and the pendulum has swung between those different visions. Government, public spending, that state, was about 35% of GDP when T Blair and G Brown took over and they ramped it up to over 40%. That was an ideological move, their vision of that good society was one closer to the Nordic social democracy than what had pertained before.
As Polly herself has noted we Brits tend to like the idea of that Nordic state but we're really very unhappy about having to pay for it through the necessary taxation. And so the pendulum has swung again to those with the vision of a slightly smaller state, one that might be described as closer to the more traditional Anglo-Saxon model.
We can all make arguments in favour of one or the other variant and we ourselves continually make those for the case that significantly smaller than 35% is a better vision. However, to advance one or the other, or any variant, is not an act of hubris - it's to lay out a vision of what the good society is.
What ails Polly is that currently the British people do not agree with her ideas on the point. Ah well, that's democracy for you.