David Cameron appears on The Andrew Marr show this morning.
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How Cameron misled on cuts in his Marr interview

The PM is giving the false impression that most of the pain lies in the past. 

In January 2010, after George Osborne's promise of an "age of austerity" had dented the Tories' popularity, David Cameron reassured voters that there would be no "swingeing cuts" in the first year of a Conservative government. Today, at the start of another election year, he sought to play a similar role. After Labour's repeated attacks on the Tories for planning "extreme" and "ideological" cuts (that would reduce spending to its lowest level as a share of GDP since the 1930s), he insisted on the Marr show that his party's plans were "moderate, sensible and reasonable". He rejected the OBR's statement that 60 per cent of the cuts are still to come and argued that £12bn of reductions to welfare would limit the damage to departments. 

Cameron's pitch may have been politically astute, but it was riddled with evasions. He rejected the OBR figure on the grounds that it ignored the cuts that Osborne had already announced for 2015-16. But while these cuts have been set out, not a single one has been implemented. Cameron is giving the false impression that the pain already lies in the past.

He went on to argue that £12bn of welfare cuts would prevent some departments being reduced by as much as 40 per cent by the end of the next parliament. But what he didn't say is that these reductions will merely ensure the Tories can maintain cuts at their current pace (as opposed to accelerating them). As the Resolution Foundation has outlined, this means a cumulative cut of 42.4 per cent to local government, 46.5 per cent to the Home Office, 55.1 per cent to Work and Pensions, 58.6 per cent to Communities and 64.8 per cent to the Foreign Office (Defence would be cut by 34.8 per cent and BIS by 35.7 per cent). The Tories' pledge to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament and to do so without any further tax rises explains why the reductions are so deep. 

And, although the Conservatives often seek to give the reverse impression, just £3.5bn of the £12bn welfare cuts they plan to impose have been announced (in the form of a promised two-year freeze on benefit increases). While further measures are expected to be set out in the party's manifesto (such as limiting child benefit to two/three/four children), it's an open question as to whether we'll get all £12bn by 7 May 2015. 

Meanwhile, Labour has hit back at Cameron's claim in today's Sunday Times that its plans would mean £13.5bn extra in debt interest payments over the next parliament. It says that the Treasury analysis:

1. Wrongly assumes that Labour would not eliminate the current deficit until 2020/21, when it has said it would do so no later than 2019/20.

2. Is based on economic forecasts from a year ago, not the 2014 Autumn Statement. 

3. Involves "double counting" of debt interest payments through misuse of the OBR's ready reckoner.

Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said:

David Cameron's desperate campaign smears and dodgy claims continue to unravel as the Tories have once again got their sums totally wrong. These figures are based on false assumptions about Labour's plans and out of date economic forecasts.

Labour will cut the deficit each year, and get the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament. That means we will do this by 2019/20 at the latest and earlier if we can - not by 2020/21 as the Tories falsely claim.

Labour's tough but balanced plan contrasts with George Osborne's increasingly risky and extreme approach. The Tories are desperately trying to distract attention from their plans which the OBR says will slash public spending to a share of national income last seen in the 1930s.

David Cameron has also made over £7 billion of unfunded tax promises. These could only be paid for by another Tory rise in VAT, even deeper cuts to public services or both.

Nor can the Tories hide from the fact they have borrowed over £200 billion more than planned because of their failure to deliver rising living standards.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.