David Prosser: Osborne and Darling talk tough on debt

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The Independent Online

Outlook On one point at least, Gordon Brown and David Cameron must sympathise with each other: it's hard work reassuring voters you're not about to slash spending and raise taxes when your Chancellor (or shadow Chancellor) keeps banging on about doing more to cut the deficit.

George Osborne certainly sounded far less conciliatory in his setpiece speech on the economy yesterday than his party leader at the weekend. While Mr Osborne began with a promise to get on top of borrowing, David Cameron, keen to blunt Labour's attack line that Tory cuts would kill the recovery, has noticeably softened his rhetoric on debt.

That divide mirrors the Government's position: Alistair Darling has been more aggressive on deficit reduction than the Prime Minister.

Leaving aside the – admittedly naive – issue of honesty with the voting public, do these tensions matter? Well, in one sense they do. International bond market investors, about whom Mr Osborne says he is so concerned, are perfectly capable of recognising politicking when they see it, but any wavering on the question of reducing the deficit now will make it even tougher for the next government to convince that its plans to pay down debt are convincing. Or, to put it another way, suggestions today that reducing debt may not be quite so pressing a concern may make a credit downgrade for the UK more likely tomorrow.

The truth, as far as I can glean it, is there is very little between Labour and the Conservatives on deficit reduction. Both will cut quickly as soon as they feel able to do so without jeopardising the recovery. In the meantime, however, that balancing act is being made all the more difficult by narrow party politics.