Nobodies sums add-up….surely that is the point?
If the election campaign is going to be one giant Dutch-auction of claim/counterclaim regarding public spending then it could be a less exciting spectacle than people think it will be. Alistair Darling led the way today by claiming that there is a £34 billion gap in the Conservatives spending proposals.
David Cameron joined in by rebutting the claims and at the same time launching a poster-campaign in which he claimed that he would ‘cut the deficit, not the NHS’. If he really wants to convince people of his honourable intent when it comes to the NHS then he really should choose his friends more wisely.
Vince Cable agrees with Alistair Darling;
“The Tory sums simply do not stack up. It is irresponsible and highly misleading for George Osborne to continue to pretend that they do.
You might think Vince would be on safe-ground here but there are elements to the less-is-more ‘Mansion Tax sop to the Shires’ that don’t make for convincing mathematics either.
The wider point is that nobodies sums will add-up entirely. Why? Well for the opposition they are often going on officially produced figures which will be wide-of-the-mark while the governments figures and commitments will be predicated on predicting the future (ie, economic growth and projected tax revenues etc). So, this debate takes place within the backdrop of a certain amount of theoretical abstraction. It is thus theoretically possible for two seemingly contradictory statements to be true; with the ultimately true one only being determined in the concrete future.
Also, you have to deal with a certain amount of political ‘slight-of-hand’ when things are ‘re-catergorised’ to give the impression of a continuation of investment while cuts are made behind the scenes elsewhere. This debate is all about what is happening between-the-lines; the language of political priorities that each party speaks.
Labour should be insisting that its priority is a return on the investment this nation made in saving capitalism; that it pays dividends in terms of the market being made truly the servant of the people. Some tax cuts for those lower down the scale might even be nice as might some investment in ‘green industary’. The Conservatives priority is to shrink the state driven as they are by the increasingly moth-eared neo-liberal orthodoxy that the same thing that had to be saved by the state should replace it. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats will sit somewhere between the two as they contemplate the peculiar contradictions that bedevils their discourse.