Mark Steel: Cut this nonsense about whose cuts are most 'savage'

Suddenly, no party thinks it can be serious unless it pledges to cut

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How have we got to a point where all the major parties try to win votes by boasting who's going to take most things away? Nick Clegg brags that the Liberals' cuts will be "savage", as if he's taken lessons from Ray Winstone on coming over hard, and his conference speech went: "Now watch my boat race and listen. If I see anyfing that can be cut – I'm 'aving it. Know what this is? It's a dialysis machine. I've gone down the hospice, seen this ol' geyser, bop bop bop bop, done 'im, out with the ol' plug and wallop. Now it's out the national debt, 'cos I'm Savage Clegg."

After that Labour will announce that the blind should fund their care by making their guide dogs fight each other to the death so a far-East betting company can post the contests on the internet.

Then Cameron will reply: "I am prepared, if elected Prime Minister, to go up to someone suffering from Alzheimer's and personally charge them for their care, and then go back the next day and charge them again, knowing they'll have forgotten they've already paid. THAT is the type of measure required to fill the gaping hole in Britain's finances."

Gordon Brown will tell us that the real reason for the barring and vetting scheme is that anyone who fails the check will be invited to bid for running after-schools clubs, providing much-needed private revenue for public services. The army will be told they'll no longer be provided with armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, but this won't curtail the movement of troops as they will be entitled to a free Oyster card covering zones 1 to 4 of Helmand Province.

All of a sudden, no party thinks it can be taken seriously unless it pledges these cuts. Tomorrow, there'll probably be an announcement from al-Qa'ida: "We can reveal that our updated spending plans will save £18bn to the prison service, by creating a series of centralised stoning centres for maximum efficiency. In addition, the long-term unemployed will be required to find work or explode, and in place of the current benefits will receive a Paradise Seeker's Allowance."

The cost of a midwife could be passed to the baby in the form of a long-term loan, inhalers could carry adverts, nothing, they all say, can be "ring-fenced".

Now the Liberals have joined in with this, presumably their party political broadcast will go: "We're sick and tired of this country being run by two squabbling parties that are basically exactly the same. What Britain needs is THREE squabbling parties that are basically exactly the same."

Some Liberals, to be fair, seem slightly uneasy with this new message. So Menzies Campbell said that while they would no longer propose to abolish tuition fees, the main thing is they still ASPIRED to promise to abolish them. It must be marvellous to live in that world. You could support Hamilton Academical and celebrate all night, telling people: "I never believed it would actually happen, but today we aspired to beat Barcelona."

And their health spokesman sheepishly offered to find the proposed cuts in the health service by "eliminating waste". But they all say this, as if there's a "waste" department in the health service, where the manager will proudly explain: "This is Jimmy, his job is to spend all day buying rowing machines and onion-chopping devices from infomercials, then put them in the lift without ever getting them out of the box. Amanda here spends hours down the arcades putting the budget in the machine with a claw that can't possibly pick up the teddy. Phil here replies excitedly to random emails from Nigeria, we're getting through ten million a day."

But they are all afraid to make the obvious point, that in the period in which this vast debt was created, while some layers of society got a bit worse off and some got a bit better off, it was the richest one per cent whose wealth grew to an unprecedentedly colossal scale. But, somehow, the rest of us will have to pay for that.

These politicians would make the worst detectives in the world. They could see film of a bank robbery, with the robbers announcing on television: "We did it, because we're bloody well entitled to it," and they'd yell: "I know who did this crime – firefighters. Let's get down there and nab them for it."

Or maybe Ed Balls assumes that it was people working in the public sector who caused the problems. Perhaps he heard of schools in which the kids would be told: "Er, hello, I'm Mister Armthorpe, your supply teacher. Your normal teacher Miss Williams can't be here today as she's had to nip to the city to lend 300 million quid to an insecure Kuwaiti investor so I'll be taking you instead. Now, have we got as far as Anne of Cleves?"

m.steel@independent.co.uk

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