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5 April 2010

The Tories are good at politics but hopeless at economics

It's the Conservatives' plans for immediate spending cuts that would stamp on the recovery.

By George Eaton

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Here is the Tories’ latest poster, which rather brings to mind George Orwell’s vision of the future as being “a boot stamping on a human face — for ever”. It is undoubtedly the party’s most effective poster yet, and looks just about spoof-proof to me.

With a day to go until Gordon Brown calls the election, the political momentum is clearly with the Conservatives. But while the Tories are getting better at politics (that National Insurance pledge has helped them in the polls), they remain hopeless at economics.

Had they been in power at the time of the financial crisis, it is almost certain that Britain would still be in recession. Their opposition to fiscal stimulus and their support for early spending cuts would have prevented even the modest growth we’ve seen.

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The 0.4 per cent growth in the final quarter of 2009 (up from a previous estimate of 0.1 per cent) was largely thanks to higher public spending and the car scrappage scheme.

The irony of the new poster is that, as our own David Blanchflower has persistently warned, it is the Tories’ plans for immediate spending cuts that would choke the recovery and trigger a double-dip recession.

Meanwhile, David Cameron continues to claim that he can simultaneously cut taxes, cut the Budget deficit and protect front-line public services.

The limits of this approach were exposed today by the King’s Fund, which accused George Osborne of indulging in a “sleight of hand” by promising to use the money the National Health Service would save from a cut in NI to fund £200m worth of new cancer drugs.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the fund, said: “It’s a sleight of hand to say the least, because the money isn’t there to be saved yet, so the money will have to come out of existing budgets.”

There’s plenty for Labour to get its teeth into here. But it needs to find a way to communicate the contradictions of the Tory approach to the electorate — and soon.

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