Are the public finances really worse than we thought?

Cameron is misleading the public.

Perhaps the most surprising claim in David Cameron's speech today was that the public finances are in an "even worse" state than we thought. Surprising because, only a few weeks ago, the Budget deficit was in fact revised down from £163.4bn to £156bn.

Cameron would say that his claim rests on the news that government debt interest will reach £70bn in the next five years.

Here's the key passage:

Based on the calculations of the last government, in five years' time the interest we are paying on our debt is predicted to be around £70bn. That is a simply staggering amount.

No wonder the previous government refused to publish the information. Let me explain what it means. Today we spend more on debt interest than we do on running schools in England. But £70bn means spending more on debt interest than we currently do on running schools in England plus climate change plus transport.

Interest payments of £70bn mean that for every single pound you pay in tax, 10 pence would be spent on interest.

But, as the Telegraph's Edmund Conway points out, this isn't news. In research cited by the Tories at the time, the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated several months ago that debt interest payments would climb to £73.8bn by 2014-2015.

Thus, there is no economic data on which to base the claim that the debt problem is "even worse" than first thought.

If Cameron is convinced that dramatic spending cuts are needed, then he should have the decency to make this argument without misrepresenting the state of economy.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Prime Minister, afraid to make the honest case for cuts, has instead resorted to scare tactics.

UPDATE: Alistair Darling has just issued a firm and measured rebuttal of Cameron's claims. He said: "There is absolutely nothing now that people didn't know when I made my Budget statement in March.

"To somehow claim that's he's opened the books and found things are worse than he thought is nonsense. This is a classic case of the Tories seeking to blame the last government in order to pave the way for things they've always wanted to do."

Darling has actually understated his case. At the time of the Budget we thought the deficit was £163.4bn. We now know it to be £7bn lower than that.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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