In Monday's Guardian, Glover sets out the case for the Coalition coming clean about its state-shrinking agenda being a matter of choice not necessity.
Why be spooked by social democrat squawking? The coalition should shrug its shoulders and confess: the charge its enemies lay at its door is broadly correct. This is an ideological government with a plan for a smaller, less centralised and more liberal state. The left dreads the obvious fact that spending cuts are central to this plan – and they are. The left senses that the government is staging a cultural revolution against social democracy – and it is. The coalition does not want to make mild adjustments to the old order. It intends to smash it.
There is an element of mad Maoism to it all: the re-creation of a country fired by a spending review that will feel like a fetishistic exercise in the application of extreme pain. To say that cuts are being forced by necessity and nothing more, is to imply that when fatter times return ministers will reverse them. Nobody who knows the leaderships of this coalition believes that. Much of what the government must do to balance the books it would have wanted to do even if they were in balance.
Yet ministers, by and large, hesitate before admitting this. Liberal Democrats worry about scaring their voters. Conservatives aren't sure the country will understand their big idea.
No minister would ever put it in these terms, which partly captures the difference between eye-catching journalism and politics. But Glover argues that this is also a strategic problem for the government, since failing to make the case for why the Coalition is doing what it is doing leaves them without a public argument. The "misery of cuts" will grind them down if they can not win the argument for a radical ideological break.
Even those keenest on the ideological direction might query this political advice. (Note that Daniel Hannan has noted that the public case for a smaller state will not be won without foregrounding the necessity argument, acknowledging that the principled case for less government has only minority appeal).
Beyond this public relations issue, there are two central substantive problems with Glover's argument - especially from either a 'progressive Conservative', LibDem centrist or social liberal perspective. The government may want to smash social democracy, but maintains that this should be done because it will therefore achieve social democratic ends.
Firstly, there is no evidence base for the Cameron/Clegg hope that the route to less inequality is to roll back the state and so roll forward society: the Big Society means to this, while an interesting area to experiment with, remain opaque. If the goal of "less state" was "more freedom", with freedom defined in terms of the size of the state, then the outcome of the project meets a right-of-centre libertarian test by definition. But the Cameron/Clegg dilemma is that they have set themselves a different test - a social democratic one, while ditching social democratic means. The point of less state is less inequality.
The problem was put pithily by Richard Reeves, now Clegg's Downing Street advisor, while Director of Demos, in his Prospect article [paywall] with Phil Collins A Big Unequal Society?, covered by Next Left at the time.
Reeves wrote that:
It makes literally no sense to argue that inequality needs to be reduced and then to call for a reduction in state benefits. The issue is not ideology; its not politics; its just arithmetic ... Labour's record shows that cash transfers can work to reduce basic income inequality. It also shows that even a broadly centre-left government did not feel able to transfer money on the scale needed truly to make society more equal. So inequality has been checked, not reversed ...
At present, he is signing himself up to Labour-style poverty and inequality measures, even as he rejects Labour-style redistribution. In other words, he is setting his own big trap and trotting gamely towards it".
Secondly, there is mounting evidence that the discretionary choices being made on public spending make the Coalition's own "progressive austerity" goal all but impossible to meet. (The issue here is the scale and speed of deficit reduction, so as to eliminate the structural deficit in one Parliament. The claim that this is essential to avoid sovereign default is not credible).
The TUC has a useful summary of the detailed findings of Tim Horton and Howard Reed's research on the distribution of current spending, and the impact of cuts. Because public spending is heavily pro-poor, a decision to have, say, double the cuts that would be necessary dials up the austerity and stretches the "progressive" claim beyond breaking point.
If Julian Glover is right about what Coalition advisers and ministers say in private - at least, those who believe that there is a coherent argument and project - then perhaps Cameron and Clegg should take his advice and admit the smaller state motivation behind their government.
But, to do that credibly, they may well have to ditch their current (shared) public account of what the government expects to achieve.