Monday 4 February 2013

David Cameron's debt reduction lie

Anyone who remembers the details of the 2010 General Election campaign would attest that David Cameron is a barefaced liar, who will say literally anything if he thinks it may work to his political advantage. For those with short memories, and those that don't really pay attention to politics but stumbled across this page accidentally, here are two of Cameron's most oft cited pre-election porkies.

"We'll cut the deficit, not the NHS"
Which was swiftly followed by a £20 billion NHS budget cut once the Tories got into power. The next quote also realtes to the NHS:
"No more top-down reorganisations of the NHS"
This one was particularly egregious considering that even as he was repeating this soundbyte, plans to introduce the largest organisational restructuring in the entire history of the NHS (aimed at privatising vast swathes of the NHS into the hands of private sector companies) were being drawn up by the Shadow Secretary of State Andrew Lansley. Had the public known about these secret Tory plans to sell off vast chunks of the NHS, the Tories would have lost hundreds of thousands of votes and almost certainly failed to even scrape together enough votes to form a coalition government.

As it was, the vast majority of the UK population were well aware of the Tory track record and refused to vote for them. Only 23.5% of eligible voters bothered to vote Tory, meaning that 76.5% didn't. As it happened this lack of public support didn't matter because the Tories managed to obtain power by forming a coalition with the Lib-Dems, who, in return for a taste of Tory power, promised to vote through all kinds of extremist Tory legislation, even stuff that wasn't even in the Tory manifesto like Lansley's enormous top-down reorganisation of the NHS which was passed into law in 2011.

Tory apologists may attempt to deflect attention from these transparent lies by claiming that all modern politicians lie in their pre-election campaigns, and to a certain extent they are right: In 1997 Tony Blair and the Neo-Labour lot lied about bringing in new rules to prevent political corruption ("sleaze" as it was called in those days), but they didn't and ended up taking plenty of dodgy donations themselves from people like Bernie Ecclestone. David Cameron's deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also proved himself a pre-election liar by voting through plans to triple university tuition fees for English students aftrer "pledging" to vote against any plans to raise fees just a few months before, a pledge that won his party 100,000s of votes from students, former students and academics.

The problem with this defence is that Cameron and the Tories have continued brazenly lying to the public throughout their administration. Anyone with an interest in military affairs will already know about one of Cameron's big early 2013 lies. He promised that there would be no British "boots on the ground" in the Mali conflict in mid-January, only to decide to send British troops into the conflict zone just a couple of weeks later in late January.

January 2013 also witnessed what I consider to be one of his most egregious lies yet. In a scripted Party Political broadcast, Cameron claimed that "we are paying down Britain's debts". In fact the combination of the catastrophic failure of George Osborne's ideological austerity experiment and rampant industrial scale tax-dodging is creating a situation where the economy is flatlining, Osborne is missing all of his economic predictions and the national debt is still growing at an alarming rate. Given the appalling economic figures in recent months it is debatable whether the Tories are even cutting the deficit, let alone the debt.

The Labour MP Rachel Reeves was quick to pick up on this brazen lie and reported him to the UK Statistics Authority. The response from Andrew Dilnot, the Chairman of UKSA, was damning. He confirmed that there was absolutely no basis for Cameron's claim and then pointed out that the national debt has risen from £811.3bn, or 55.3 per cent of GDP in 2010, to £1,111.4bn, or 70.7 per cent of GDP. It is difficult to obtain any reliable estimates of how bad the debt will be by the General Election in 2015 (The OBR, the ONS and the IMF have all repeatedly produced over-optimistic economic predictions which then need to be downgraded time and again) however a decent ballpark estimate could be £1.4 - £1.5 trillion, or 80% - 90% of GDP.

Dilnot also took the time to explain to Cameron the difference between the debt and the deficit, something that many Tories have struggled with. The way I like to explain it is that a debt and a deficit in economics are analogous to speed and acceleration in physics. The debt is the actual value of the thing and the deficit is the rate of change in the value of the thing.

The big problem for Cameron is that most of the other Tory MPs that have jumbled up the concepts of the debt and the deficit, (or even claimed that they are the same thing!) have tended to do so in the heat of the moment, in live interviews or during unscripted speeches. Cameron has no such excuse. He lied about the national debt in a carefully scripted statement in a party political broadcast, for which there is absolutely no justification because there are only two possible conclusions to draw:

A. Cameron is too stupid to even realise that the script that he was reading contains outright lies about the economy.
B .Or, he knew perfectly well that it was a lie, is  comfortable with telling lies to the public and holds the public in such low regard that he thinks that they are so stupid and ill informed that they won't even realise that he's lying to them.
In my view, either one of these explanations make him entirely unfit to be Prime Minister.

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