The complaints by 90 leading Liberal Democrat councillors about the impact of the local government cuts give the lie to claims by the unpleasant Eric Pickles and his team of local government ministers that councils could achieve all the necessary savings painlessly (at least for 'frontline services'). It is impossible for coalition ministers to treat these claims in the same way as they airily dismissed announcements from Manchester City Council about its cuts.
Of course, there are some savings to be made by small London councils merging services like education (it used to happen in something called the ILEA) and schools may be able to merge administrative functions. But the blunt reality is that there will still be job losses - often at the front line - and cuts in everything from Sure Start to libraries. It is as fatuous for Pickles and others to claim that everything would be all right if only council chief execs cut their pay or their middle managers were named and shamed in local papers for earning £60k a year, as it is to imagine that a bit of ritual stake-burning for bank bosses will restore our national fortunes.
What we require is a little honesty here. Of course that applies to the opposition too. In truth, local government would have been a prime target for cuts by Labour if it was in power, though one might have hoped that the stealth cuts to schools - £250k on a £6m budget is typical - might have been avoided with a less frenzied frontloading of the savings, especially the short-sighted axing of most formula capital.
However, the coalition cuts are made all the worse at the frontline by the pretence that that they either aren't happening or aren't needed. Such duplicity can only cause real outrage when the reality hits home. The coalition's austerity drive would have far more credibility if they stopped playing the silly game they tried in opposition of suggesting that the biggest cuts in nearly a century could be achieved painlessly. If the government want us 'all to be in this together' in sharing the pain, they need to be honest about where it will hurt. And they should stop blaming those they have forced to implement the cuts for getting on with their job.
A little honesty might work wonders for the government's rapidly dwindling reputation.