Those are the words I wanted to hear in the leaders debate on Thursday night, or indeed at any stage during this election campaign. It simply astounds me what Gordon Brown gets away with.
Take his suggestion that the Tories would take child tax credits away from the ‘poorest families’. In fact, the Conservative plan is to get rid of the credit for families earning more than £50,000, which is more than twice the average household income. Whether it’s a good policy or a bad one isn’t the issue – the fact is that Brown was deliberately misrepresenting it. Why does no one call him out?
Then there was his attack on the Conservatives’ inheritance tax plans. Brown kept describing it as giving £200,000 a year to the richest 3000 ‘estates’ in Britain. The intention to stir up class resentment is as clear as it is discreditable. But where does he get these figures? In reality the Tory plan helps anyone whose home is worth more than £325,000 but less than £1,000,000, which will no longer be taxed at 40 percent. And a lot of perfectly average families fall into that category. Again, you can argue about whether the Conservative plans are the right ones. But that clearly isn’t the argument that the prime minister wants to have.
You could mention other distortions and mistruths – the constant scaremongering about the Tories cutting benefits for the elderly, taking drugs away from cancer patients, and so on – but let’s look at the big lie instead: this idea that cutting our £6bn of government waste will ‘shrink the economy’ and cause a ‘double-dip recession’. To anyone who doesn’t inhabit Gordon Brown’s Keynesian alternate universe, this is blatant nonsense.
Firstly, we’ve got a £1.5trn economy, and the Treasury is forecasting £60bn of growth this year. The idea that £6bn – a rounding error, in fiscal terms – is going to make a material difference is absurd, as even Vince Cable has admitted. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that cutting public spending by £6bn is not ‘taking money out of the economy’: it is leaving money in the private sector, where it has a chance of being put to some productive use. Perhaps someone should ask Gordon Brown to explain the stimulus effect of Whitehall bureaucracy, and see how he handles that.
But let’s also go a step further, and be honest about the situation we’re in – something that the IFS is right to point out none of the parties is doing. Unless we start making real, sustained cuts in public spending we could easily find ourselves hurtling towards another crisis, with our credit rating downgraded, interest rates soaring, the property market collapsing, and our still-fragile banks seeing a fresh wave of losses. And I doubt German taxpayers’ would be inclined to bail us out.
Shortly after the election, the Adam Smith Institute will be publishing its detailed plan for five years of across-the-board spending cuts, with the reasonable goal of balancing the budget over the course of the next parliament. Our report’s title: The Party is Over.