Phrases they are bound to use tonight – and whether we should listen

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Indy Politics

David Cameron

"Tax on jobs"

The increase in employers' national insurance contributions is anything but. In the short term, it is a tax on profits because employers cannot adjust employment that fast. Longer term it is a tax on wages, as companies adjust salary levels and pass the tax on to staff, rather than slash jobs.

"Greek-style crisis"

The size of Britain's borrowing is not that far behind Greece –12 per cent vs 14 per cent of GDP – and the UK has had to ask the IMF for aid in the past. But if the deficit is so dangerous, why are the Conservatives talking about any kind of tax cuts?

"A hung parliament will lead to economic paralysis"

The markets seem calmer about the prospect than the some politicians. Germany, with the strongest public finances in Europe, has been ruled by coalitions since 1949. However, if the parties cannot extend their apparent consensus on fixing the deficit there could be a sterling crisis, a run on UK gilts and a rise in interest rates and mortgage bills.

"Labour's legacy of debt"

At £1.4 trillion, the national debt will reach an all-time high in a few years. Much of it will not disappear when the economy revives. However, the debt was probably higher in the 1950s and early 1960s, when the economy still functioned. Most experts say total debt at anything much over 80 per cent of GDP can lead to a spiral of decline; it is scheduled to reach 74.9 per cent.

Nick Clegg

"Two old parties"

Implying that the Liberal Democrats' policies are radically different. In fact, they are not much more open about their spending plans than the others.

"Phantom efficiency savings"

Yet Mr Clegg's party also makes some pretty heroic assumptions about saving money in Whitehall and elsewhere.

"Rebalance the economy"

Everyone wants to move away from reliance on debt, housing and the City and towards exports, savings, investment and manufacturing. But no party has any policies to deliver the goal.

"Billionaire tax dodgers"

The Liberal Democrats say they will clamp down on tax evasion and "non-doms". Up to £40bn is lost through tax dodging but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the apparently reasonable £4bn the party claims it can capture is "highly speculative".

"Break up the banks"

A popular cry championed by Barack Obama, the Bank of England Governor and David Cameron too. It might cut the economic risks of banks becoming over-extended, but it wouldn't stop smaller lenders such as Northern Rock going bust. Nor would it make them lend to businesses.

"The only party to warn about the coming crisis"

The Liberal Democrats did not predict the scale of the slump. Alistair Darling, however, correctly said it would be the worst downturn in 60 years.

Gordon Brown

"Secure the recovery and jobs"

The Prime Minister's central message throughout the campaign. In economic terms, Labour's claim (endorsed by the Liberal Democrats) that it would be wrong to take £6bn out of the economy (as the Tories plan, to pay for a national insurance cut) has some substance. The recent GDP figures, which showed the economy expanding by a feeble 0.2 per cent in the first months of this year, and unemployment up to 2.5 million, suggest the economy is weak. Whether the £6bn is "wasted" (as the Tories claim) or not is a secondary issue; it would take vital spending power out of the economy.

"The Big Choice Election"

It's fair to say the Tories would want to cut public spending by more and raise taxes by less than their opponents. But the room enjoyed by all three parties is limited, and all are vague on detail. None entirely rule out changing VAT, and many economists think a hike is a certainty.

"The Tories opposed the bank rescue/car scrappage scheme/VAT cut"

The Opposition argued that government money could have been better spent. The VAT cut, for example, encouraged spending at the end of 2009 when it was shortly to expire, rather than at the start of the year, when recession was deepest. Tax rebates might have worked better.

"We have a clear plan to reduce borrowing by half"

Yes and no. The target is perfectly clear but the IFS says Mr Brown must come clean about £44.1bn of planned spending cuts. He hasn't said anything about where the axe will fall.

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