Tory MP Tells Osborne: 'It's Time To Man Up'
Chancellor George Osborne has been warned by a Tory MP that he must "man up" and recognise the scale of the deficit challenge facing Britain.
Less than three weeks before the Budget, Conservatives told a meeting of the right-wing Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) that borrowing is at worrying levels.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the MP for Spelthorne in Surrey who chairs the Tory backbench "Free Enterprise Group", struck a particularly pessimistic tone.
Arguing that the international aid budget should not be exempt from cuts, he told the audience: "We are still borrowing £120bn. We are not in a fit state to be spending money in this way."
Looking to the future, he added: "We have got to address this, and if we don't, what will happen is that we will have another government which will probably not address it and we will end up being a basket case.
"I'm quite happy to say that publicly. This is a big, big problem, and unless we can actually man up and deal with it, I think we've got big problems ahead of us."
He was not the only gloomy Tory at the event.
Ben Gummer, the MP for Ipswich, said the lack of a credible medium or long-term budgeting framework meant the Government was unable to get a grip on the fiscal situation.
He suggested last week's Eastleigh by-election result, which saw the Tories pushed into third behind UKIP, showed the public "lack confidence in our abilities as politicians to meet big challenges".
Other MPs suggested no department should be protected from possible cuts in the current spending review, which is looking at 2015-16 and should be concluded in the first half of this year.
Therese Coffey and David Rutley, who are both members of the Government at parliamentary private secretary level, and ex-whip Brooks Newmark suggested the ring-fence that is applied to health, schools and international aid was no longer sustainable.
"No budget should be sacrosanct," Ms Coffey said.
Mr Newmark added that the NHS was "incredibly bloated" and argued the huge costs of the health service could be tackled without affecting patients.
The MPs' comments come as Mr Osborne is under intense pressure ahead of his crucial Budget on March 20 and amid wider party concerns sparked by the Eastleigh defeat.
None of the participants in the IEA debate thought it was likely that the ring fences would be touched by the Government.
But the tenor of the argument showed there is considerable frustration on Conservative backbenches that the Government is making the job of deficit reduction unnecessarily hard for itself.