Friday, 16 April 2010

Take Me To Your Leaders

Three things stick in my mind after last night's historic first-ever UK party leaders' debate. Some or all of these may be utterly irrelevant, and as far from policy as it's possible to get. So if you're looking for a serious analysis, try a proper blogger.

The Missing Billions

About half way through the debate, Brown and Cameron's bickering about National Insurance Contributions (now known as "jobs tax" in Toryworld) reached a nadir with this exchange:

If you were elected, in a budget in July, you've got to take six
billion out of the system, other than health and defence.
Where does that money come from? You've promised you'll
take six billion out. It can only end up with the loss of
thousands of jobs, including teachers. You will not back us
and support us on keeping education. Why won't you support
educational spending, as we do?

I think people can hear that this is a complete invention of a figure plucked out of the air. We're saying the government
could save one pound out of every hundred it spends. Now,
what small business, what large business, what family, frankly,
hasn't had to do that during this difficult recession?

David Cameron responded to Gordon Brown's claim that the Tories plan to cut £6 billion by stating that the figure was a "complete invention". I have italicised the relevant sentence above. (Incidentally, I can think of one family that probably hasn't had to cut their expenditure by 10%. Step forward Mr & Mrs Cameron of Witney, Oxon.)

Now if that were true, and Gordon had just plucked the figure out of the air, imagine my surprise when this happened:

How certain can you be that your party's policies will deal with
the budget deficits without damaging economic growth?

Mr Cameron?

This is an absolutely vital question, and I'm glad it's been asked, because we've got to get this economy moving. We've
got to get this economy growing. What we say is save £6
billion in the coming current year
in order to stop the jobs tax
which we think will derail the recovery.

Now I'm a little confused. If this six billion was a "complete invention", where's the money coming from? Oh, I see:

These two constantly argue about waste as if we can
create...or we can fill the black hole in public finances by
saving money on paper clips and pot plants in Whitehall. Of
course we can get rid of a bit of waste. But that isn't the big...
That doesn't really address the big questions we need to ask
ourselves. I think we need to be clear with you, open with you,
straight with you. We've tried to do that. We've set out £15
billion worth of savings. I've listed some of them.

... it's because the six billion is in fact FIFTEEN billion. "Some" of which Dave has listed - yeah, paper clips and pot plants. Thanks a million. Or, actually, thanks fifteen billion.

Serving Your Country

All three of the leaders used the tactic of anecdotes about 'real' people. Here's an example. This man has served his country above and beyond the call of duty.

I was in Plymouth recently, and a 40-year-old black
man made the point to me. He said, "I came here when I was
six, I've served in the Royal Navy for 30 years."

Now, I may be wrong, but I have my suspicions that this man does not actually exist. I'm pretty sure the Royal Navy no longer uses ten-year-old boys on their ships. Unless Dave thinks the forces are still in the age of Horatio Hornblower.

Cross-Party Consensus

I couldn't resist. I tried, really I did, but I couldn't resist. So here it is - the (completely un-)official "I agree with Nick" count.

Gordon Brown - 4 (plus a "Nick also agrees with me", which Nick rebutted)

David Cameron - a very disappointing nul points

And I thought I even heard Nick Clegg himself say it at one point.

All quotes are taken from the BBC website, who kindly posted a full transcript in pdf format.