Clutching at straws, perhaps, but for Britain’s Conservatives, there is some comfort to be derived from the fact that the Liberal Democrats’ surge (which is very real) has taken place at a relatively early stage of the election campaign. That means that some of their claims, which might otherwise pass largely unexamined, are coming under scrutiny. This appears to have been the case when the Lib-Dems’ economic spokesman took part in his debate today.
The Spectator’s David Blackburn has some details:
What is the difference between ‘an alternative’ and ‘an addition’? It is on this question that the Liberal Democrat manifesto turns. If there is a difference, then there is a substantial black hole in their deficit reduction plans.
There is a difference. The manifesto presents a £3.4bn public sector payroll measure as an addition to existing government measures, when in fact the small-print discloses that it’s an alternative. Caught double counting, at best the Lib Dems would cut £36.6bn of the £40bn or so pledged. Under further scrutiny from Andrew Neil and Stephanie Flanders, Cable could not define where a further £10bn of cuts was coming from. £20bn of the remaining £26.6bn of planned cuts to halve the deficit are pre-existing government efficiencies.
The Spectator is no friend of the Lib-Dems, and the Conservatives’ deficit reduction “plan” is also far from convincing. Nevertheless, the belief that Clegg’s party has established itself as the party of thrift is, like so much of the sentiment behind the Liberal Democrats’ surge, simply wishful thinking.