Truth deficit: This economic debate risks leaving voters cold

 

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The Independent Online

This election campaign was always going to be fought on the economy, given that the biggest task facing the Coalition when it took power five years ago was fixing it.

The Conservatives are right in claiming that Britain is back on the road to prosperity. But Labour is also right to claim that progress has not been all that it might, chiefly because the fall in living standards has been slow to reverse.

The claim that the deficit has halved depends on the denominator you use. As a proportion of GDP, which has risen, it has been cut in half, but in absolute terms the decline from £153bn to £91bn falls short. Moreover, the reduction programme and eventual surplus is several years behind where George Osborne intended it to be in his emergency Budget of 2010.

The issue that divides the parties now is whether to eliminate the structural deficit by 2018 (Conservatives) or at some undetermined point in the future (Labour). It makes sense to pay down the deficit when the going is good. The trouble is, the economy should be doing better now than it actually is. True, Britain is outperforming most other major nations, but business investment is weak and exports underwhelming.

What should concern both party leaders more is that the deficit is not the issue which will make this campaign catch fire. Their economic records should be seen through the prism of issues that do matter: the funding of the NHS and managing the social cost of essential immigration.

The victor on 7 May must have the statistics to back up the policies that voters care about, not spurious claims about policies which they do not.

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