Electorate left in the dark, says IFS

Election 2015: Electorate ‘left in the dark’, says IFS


Four of the major parties have not provided “anything like full details” on plans to cut the deficit, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.

The think-tank said “broad outlines” of the choice on offer were on show but the electorate had been left “somewhere in the dark” over cuts planned by the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and SNP.

The report came as the Conservatives said a Labour-SNP government would be “deeply unstable” and Labour said the Tories were planning “the biggest cuts anywhere in the developed world”.

In other election news:

  • The chancellor received a pre-election boost with official figures showing he beat his target for reducing annual public sector borrowing for the latest financial year
  • The Liberal Democrats will pledge a £150m support package for carers
  • Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has attacked the Conservatives and the SNP in a letter to voters and a speech in Fife
  • The number of uncontested seats at some local elections has reached “epidemic proportions”, the head of the UK’s returning officers’ organisation said
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the tone he has used on issues including immigration and HIV was designed to “get noticed”

The IFS report comes after it analysed each of the party manifestos.

The think-tank’s deputy director Carl Emmerson said: “There are genuinely big differences between the main parties’ fiscal plans.

“The electorate has a real choice, although it can at best see only the broad outlines of that choice.”

The analysis found Conservative plans for the next Parliament involve “a significantly larger reduction in borrowing and debt than Labour plans”, Mr Emmerson said.

But that is based on “substantial and almost entirely unspecified spending cuts and tax increases, he added.

‘Longer period’

The IFS said Labour had been “considerably more vague” about how much it wants to borrow.

It said the Liberal Democrats had been more transparent about overall fiscal plans to 2017-18, saying they were aiming for tightening spending more than Labour but less than the Conservatives.

The SNP’s figures imply the same reduction in borrowing as Labour, the IFS said, although the reduction would be slower.

This means the party is proposing a slower but longer period of austerity, the think-tank said.

The report added on the SNP: “Their stated plans do not necessarily match their anti-austerity rhetoric.”

George Osborne and Ed Balls

Chancellor George Osborne said: “People know from us we have a balanced and clear plan to eliminate the deficit, to invest in our National Health Service and to make work pay for working people, which is exactly what we have done over the last 5 years.”

He said the IFS report showed Labour would borrow £90bn more.

Ahead of the publication of the IFS assessment, Mr Osborne told Today he “did not accept” the Tory campaign had too negative a focus.

He said: “The vast bulk of our campaign is promoting the positive – today we are setting out more of our plans for working people in different parts of the regions.

“We’ve got a very positive message about what we can do and of course a track record that proves we can deliver.”

But he also repeated warnings about SNP influence on a Labour minority government.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP if his party falls short of a majority on 7 May, but the Conservatives say there could be a looser arrangement with Labour relying on SNP support to win Commons votes.

Mr Osborne said: “They would rely on this deeply unstable block in parliament of Scottish nationalists who would negotiate vote-by-vote, budget resolution by budget resolution, forcing higher borrowing, higher taxes, deep political instability.”

He said the SNP leadership would be the “stronger force” in such an arrangement and their demands would cause higher interest rates and lead to a cut in incomes.

‘Real cost’

The chancellor also used an interview in the Daily Telegraph to cite a Treasury estimate of the SNP’s spending plans that said they would trigger an extra £6bn in debt interest payments.

“There’s a real cost for families,” Mr Osborne told the Telegraph.

“It’s equivalent to just over £350 per family.”

Labour called the chancellor’s comments “ludicrous” and said they were “based on old figures”.

Labour highlighted an analysis from the International Monetary Fund, claiming it showed Conservative cuts planned for the next three years would be “bigger than anywhere else among the world’s 33 advanced economies”.

Mr Miliband will claim spending cuts outlined in last month’s Budget would be “double the pace next year than this year”.

At an NHS rally in Leeds, he will say: “The Tories are committed to the most extreme spending plans of any political party in generations.

“It is a plan so extreme that far from protecting the NHS they would end up cutting the NHS.”

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