Thursday, 25 March 2010


The budget has been received with a degree of acclaim by many commentators, primarily because Chancellor Alastair Darling did not mess up. He has been commended for walking a budgetary tightrope just a few weeks before an election without dropping the patient that is the economy and without slipping up to drop his own party in it so close to polling day. These furiously mixed metaphors aside, the problem with the budget was not what it said but what it didn't say.

Everyone is aware that the country is in a difficult situation. The government has borrowed a huge amount of money to avoid a deep depression and this has been successful so far. The Liberal Democrats have supported this approach as the alternative in this period of major financial upheaval would have been turmoil for millions of people across the country. We have also recognised that the deficit must be addressed as soon as possible, starting this year. The Conservatives have called every economic decision wrong for more than two years, going against economic orthodoxy, most countries around the world and even that champion of profligate spending, the IMF. Yet still they continue to claim the moral high ground and to call for immediate cuts to address the huge budget deficit - although they won't say what they would cut.

And there is the problem: neither the Conservatives nor Labour will say how they will address the deficit. This failure to spell out the tough decisions needed now stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Liberal Democrats under our inspired Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable. Six weeks from polling day only the Liberal Democrats have identified £15bn worth of cuts to be made this year and a clear programme for addressing the deficit, including cancelling the unnecessary replacement for Trident (the existing system can simply continue to be deployed).
(see here for more on this)

As Andrew Grice puts it in today's Independent: "With the honourable exception of the Liberal Democrats, the main parties are still being deliberately vague about specific cuts. Labour's hastily-put-together £11bn package of "savings" relied on our old friend efficiency savings. The Tories claim that leaves more than £20bn of cuts to be found by Labour in the full-scale spending review conveniently delayed until after the election."

That's Labour conveniently accounted for but what of the Tories. Well, if you're happy to vote for a political party which makes vague pledges in the face of an unprecedented deficit, you might wish to vote Tory. If you think that the general blandishments of 'jam tomorrow' are sufficient for an economic policy, George Osborne is your man. If you think that every other major economy has been wrong to borrow today to avoid the worst outcome from this period of turmoil, blue is the colour for you.

Alternatively, if you believe that the man who predicted the credit crunch might be the right person to address the fallout and the recovery, you could do worse than consider Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats. If you think that the party which called for bank nationalisation as a necessary tool to avoid social unrest and stabilise our financial sector got it right, try the Liberal Democrats. And if you think it is better to vote for a party which makes it absolutely clear that we face difficult times but which sets out clearly how it plans to address them, think about the Liberal Democrats.

The adventure is over for David Cameron's Conservatives. They have failed to persuade the electorate and they have been found out.

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