The three parties are failing to tell the British people about the real scale of the debt crisis. The argument about National Insurance is not so much a difference between the two big parties about who will save a few billion as a tacit agreement that the voters' minds will need to be focused on relatively small issues lest their attention be drawn to the really big problem of Britain's colossal indebtedness.
The true figures will not appear in any election manifesto – they might scare the voters. But they can be read in the publications of the Office of National Statistics.
In the fiscal year 2010-2011, there will be a budget deficit of £178bn to be paid for out of borrowing. Mr Darling says this figure will not be so bad – only £167bn – but never mind, either figure is terrible. The UK Gross Domestic Product is about £1.4trillion a year and the Government spends roughly 40 per cent of that, or some £600bn. The Government's borrowing this year will therefore amount to about 28 per cent of its income. The current budget deficit is about 12 per cent of our entire GDP, a figure worse than all the Eurozone countries except Greece.
Every year since 2002, the Blair/ Brown government has overspent its income by about 2-3 per cent. This debt has been rolled over and is now part of that huge deficit.
There are many reasons not to vote Labour at the next election but its criminal mismanagement of the economy by its excessive spending and borrowing has shown that it is unfit to hold office. Unfortunately, neither of the other parties has had the honesty or the courage to tell the whole truth to the British people. We deserve better.
I don't know who will win the election but it will be close. A minority government or some fudged coalition would be disastrous. The run on the pound will begin at midnight on 9 May, when the Japanese banks open and start selling UK government stock as fast as they can unload it.
The solution is for David Cameron to level with the people. This is his moment. If he takes his courage in both hands and tells us how it is, and of the privations to come and how he will repair the damage, instead of just playing yah-boo party politics, he could yet become a great prime minister. This is not the time for careful timidity. The stakes are too high.
Voters sleep-walk into comfort zone
I fear that the country is sleepwalking from years of Labour waste and broken promises into its right-wing comfort zone.
If so, the next few years will be difficult for poor people, unemployed people, sick people, disabled people, homeless people, very young people, old people, gay people, single parents, migrant workers, asylum seekers, public-sector workers and all those who do not fit the usual narrow Tory mould. Wake up before it's too late.
New Labour is targeting the elderly vote to save its bacon. Hence its hypocritical bribe in offering a "free" National Care Service. Do not be fooled. If it happens at all, it won't be for at least another four years, it won't be "free" and will take cuts in benefits and increased taxes to pay for it. Maybe Labour hopes that our declining years have damaged our memories and intelligence.
Otley, West Yorkshire
Like Chris Payne (letter, 26 March) I have lived under the same four periods of Labour government, each – according to him – characterised by self-induced financial disasters, following dazzling economic inheritances from preceding Tory governments.
So the Labour government of 1945 inherited an economic paradise amid a calm world order?
In 1964 it was said that Maudling, the outgoing Conservative Chancellor, apologised to his replacement, Jim Callaghan, for "leaving things in such a mess".
Are we really to believe that in 1974, after a combination of Anthony Barber's ludicrous "dash for growth" and the oil crisis, Wilson's third government was going to have an easy ride?
Unlike Mr Payne, I look forward to a predominant social democratic consensus, based upon electoral reform. Before I'm called to the Great Polling Station in the Sky I want to see the Tory Party relegated to the sidelines of politics.
I had a similar experience to Ian Watson (letter, 13 April). My local council Tory candidate said he was relaxed about global warming, as more food could be produced in the Canadian north.
When I asked how hard shield rocks could sustain the necessary food production, and what would be the effect of methane being released from the melting permafrost, he expressed the view that I would be voting Liberal Democrat, and walked away.
Ordinary people in Britain face a future of climate change, coastal erosion, flooding, and food and energy shortages. The effects (especially on rising prices for food and fuel) are likely to be severe within two parliaments. We need candidates and parties that take a sensible, precautionary approach to the problems facing the country and the populated world, and I hope we vote only for politicians who take these matters seriously.
The Liberal Democrats charge £5 for a hard copy of their manifesto with no additional postage and packing incurred. Second are the Labour Party at £5.36 including P&P. Last are the Conservatives at £6.90; they also do not offer free P&P. The Liberal Democrats manage to come in at best value in terms of overall cost and postage. Perhaps they could manage those savings in the economy after all.
It's good of Mr Cameron to offer me a place in his government. I'll be Culture Secretary, please. And meanwhile, since there'll be no real use for Tory MPs in Dave's brave new world, I'll vote for our local Lib Dem.
British disdain for engineering
Professor Ian Smalley makes the astonishing assertion (letter, 12 April) that British manufacturing industry has disappeared and engineering declined because of the A-level courses introduced in 1951.
I was an electronic engineering undergraduate in 1962, after taking A-levels, along with thousands of other young engineers, and had been encouraged to study engineering by my brilliant A-level physics teacher, Dr Ezra Somekh, whose unbounded enthusiasm and sense of humour and the sheer joy he had in science made a lifelong impression on me. The sciences and mathematics taught at A-level are the foundation of engineering, and you can't do engineering without them.
I suggest that if Professor Smalley is looking for reasons for a decline in British engineering and manufacturing, he start by looking at long-standing, class-based, British social attitudes to the engineering professions; the dearth of engineering representation at senior UK company board level (compared, for example, with the Germans); the salaries paid to engineers in the UK compared to Germany, the US and Japan; and the absurd Thatcher policies of the 1980s promoting a "service economy" and squandering rather than investing North Sea oil revenues.
Addressing the conference of the National Union of Teachers, Baljeet Ghale asks, "How can pupils be expected to know what they want to do at the age of 14?" and Claire Mills objects to the possibility that the "practical" people could be separated from the "clever" people ("Plumbers, carpenters – and second-class citizens?", 5 April).
At the age of 14, many of my generation knew exactly what they wanted to do, which in my case was to drop out of grammar school and become an engineering apprentice. This included five years, three nights per week, at "the Tech" to qualify as a production engineer. Six decades later, I am comfortably retired after 33 years of running my own successful business.
If only I had been a "clever" rather than a "practical" 14-year-old, I might even have become a teacher!
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
Legal aid helps the poor to get justice
I was disappointed with your attempt to clarify issues relating to legal aid (The Big Question, 14 April). You say that "£2bn of public money is given each year to defendants, some... charged with heinous crimes", and yet figures on the same page reveal that almost half of this budget is not directed at criminal defence but is used to provide legal representation in civil cases.
These include vulnerable children, low-income tenants of unscrupulous landlords, destitute refugees from abusive regimes and those who are suffering domestic violence. None of these legally aided cases is a criminal, and they would have no access to justice without this help.
You also state that "the main beneficiaries... have been lawyers". I am a finance director of a law firm heavily engaged in this work, and I can tell you that a huge amount of this work is loss-making, requiring subsidy from other areas of the firm. It is the commitment of a special breed of lawyers at the lowest end of the legal salary scale, and of firms committed to subsidising the legal aid process, that allows this service to continue.
The main beneficiaries of legal aid are not lawyers but are the poor, dispossessed and voiceless, who will suffer if this support is lost.
Patronising plan to reward marriage
The principle of rewarding people financially simply for being married or in a civil partnership, as proposed by the Conservatives, is plain wrong. The amount proposed, at this stage, is negligible but it opens the way for increases over time. It is also patronising.
It discriminates against single people for whom marriage just does not happen but who lead responsible lives and often, usually while also working, shoulder the burden of elderly parents or other relatives. It also penalises those (usually women and children) who are abandoned by feckless husbands, and those who are widowed.
People on two incomes and especially those without children and enjoying the benefits of economies of scale are relatively well off and do not need the money. Single people, especially the childless, fare poorly under the current tax and benefits system. In the nightmare scenario of the Tories coming to power in May, should they have any money to splash around I suggest that they do something to redress the balance.
Dianne Reeder (letter, 14 April) should count herself lucky that she only longs for copies of magazines in her GP's waiting room. I long for quiet. We have a television commanding our attention. What has happened to just sitting?
What a pity that Virginia Ironside (12 April) perpetuates the myth that adopted children who were not orphans were unwanted. While it is true that some were unwanted, as are some children born within marriage, in many cases the mothers of illegitimate children had no choice but to give them up when they had no support from family or state. To suggest otherwise seems cruel to a multitude of mothers and children.
In response to Linda Elliott's plea (letter, 15 April), when I tried online to opt out of the Summary Care Records scheme five weeks ago, I found that neither site indicated by the document gave access to a form. I therefore went and got one from my GP health centre, filled it in and returned it. I still don't know, of course, whether the scheme will take the slightest notice of my opting out.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Blizzard of cheques
Because the use of cheques has reduced, banks have taken a unilateral decision to abolish cheques without any regard to the inconvenience which this will cause to many customers. We should all use our cheque books as often as possible until the banks relent. I can no longer pay my TV licence at the Post Office, but can pay online; thus I am doing the work of bank cashiers and licensing staff. It is far easier to pop a cheque into the post, generating extra work for everyone and boosting the income of the Post Office.
Ravens on the way
Since my mother, Ludmila's, original letter on 8 April, correspondence about the rise of the ravens has taken on a positively Hitchcockian tone. No confirmed sightings from Barnes as yet, Mrs Chard, but I can exclusively report that the sandpipers at the Wildfowl and Wetland Centre are looking increasingly nervous.
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