The polo-mint election


Well, well. Someone suggested last week that this should be called the “polo mint campaign” because it’s got a large hole in the middle of it: the silence of all three parties on what they will do to reduce the deficit. I ranted about this the other day. Today the Financial Times, no less, wades in on the same theme. Its first Leader, “Winning office but not a mandate,” says, in part:

This week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies quantified the size of that silence. It revealed that the Liberal Democrats were the most forthcoming of the main parties, but even they had only told voters about one-quarter of the retrenchment that they would impose upon the country. The UK’s politicians are suffering some kind of pre-traumatic stress disorder.

Indeed, the parties are not only refusing to address the deficit problem. They continue to promote expensive hobby-horses. The Lib Dems are pushing a large tax change and the Conservatives pledge dear public sector reforms and tax cuts. The Tories, in common with Labour, also promise not to cut some large departments.

Little wonder that opinion polls show voters still believe that “efficiency savings” alone can rein in the deficit. But they are in for the shock of their lives – and will respond with fury when they learn the truth. Their anger, moreover, will not be directed at bankers or bureaucrats. It will be aimed at the politicians who hid their plans from the public.

Britain now faces a period of public austerity without any detailed consensus about retrenchment, and no broad public support for it. That will make the task of balancing the books more difficult and poses a risk to the credibility of any future plan to rein in the country’s gaping fiscal deficit.

Whoever wins this election will not be able to claim that they have a mandate to cut the state. That will, in part, be their own fault for choosing silence and short-term electoral advantage over outspoken courage. The public might not like hard truths, but they were barely given a chance to hear any. The next government’s silence in this election campaign could cost them the election. After this.

It’s not every day the Pink ‘Un and I find ourselves in agreement. So let us celebrate unanimity while we still can.