Conservatives aren’t sure if they saved the economy or copied Labour plans


4:19 pm - November 26th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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I’m slightly confused by this. Fraser Nelson at the Spectator blogs:

So it is with Osborne and Balls. Rhetorically, they are poles apart; one championing cuts, the other spending. But you’ll notice that neither quantifies the cuts. That’s because Osborne is simply enacting an only-slightly-souped-up version of Darling’s plan and the real difference between the two parties is tiny.

Wait a second – they were dismissing Labour plans at the election as ‘deficit deniers’, weren’t they?

I wasn’t a fan of Labour’s deficit reduction plan at the last election, but I’ve written about why they were muddled and had to address complaints that Labour ‘wasted too much money’.

Duncan Weldon crunched the numbers for us then and explained that the difference between Alistair Darling and George Osborne’s plan was of £40 billion – no insignificant sum. Furthermore, the cuts would be implemented differently and not targeted specifically at the most vulnerable.

Now we can debate endlessly whether the difference is significant enough or not, But I’m certain the difference was enough for Tories to scream that Labour would have forced UK to go cap-in-hand to the IMF.

Various Conservative commentators claimed that Labour’s plans would destroy the UK’s credit rating, that it would pass on massive debts to future generations, that Labour were ‘deficit deniers’ who threatened our very economic credibility.

And now the very same people, with a straight face, are saying the difference wasn’t actually all that.

Do you think it may have something to do with the UK economy taking a downturn since Osborne took over?

You have to admire the Conservative ability to spout completely contradictory narratives amongst themselves without breaking out into a massive civil war. But there is it: Toby Young is claiming this morning that if we followed Labour’s plans the Bond markets would be in meltdown, while his mate Fraser Nelson is saying the difference wasn’t actually all that much.

Rather coincidentally, the OECD will say on Monday that the UK is heading into recession.

How likely is it Conservatives will say – ‘this would have happened under Labour too as their plans were so similar’ – and Westminster correspondents will nod along willingly?

Addendum
Daniel Knowles of the Telegraph argues on Twitter that Fraser Nelson thinks Osborne doesn’t go far enough in cutting – so the two positions aren’t contradictory. I don’t think this is true, since Nelson’s main argument has been for ages that Osborne is credible on steering the economy while Ed Balls isn’t.

Furthermore, even if Nelson isn’t u-turning (which I question) – how do you explain Osborne’s u-turn on the same subject?

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Mike Killingworth

This has been on the cards for some little time now.

Those of us who are old enough to remember Heath’s U-turn – let alone his panic in the face of the 1973 oil price hike, when he issued ration books for petrol – yes, ration books were last issued by a Tory government 😆 – now recall that saying about history repeating, first as tragedy, then as farce.

The conservatives coming in probably did save the UK’s credit rating because they have a reputation as being more financially capable than the drunken sailor spending style of Labour. The fact that with the modern parties, you would be hard put to fit a slip of paper between their respective styles of incompetence is something that the market will wake up to sooner or later.

Does make one wonder why people bother campaigning so hard for one or the other.*

*except to get rid of Gordon Brown, every day he was in power was one more cloud on the horizon.

Austerity is not working. The ecconomy is going to shit.

So as the tories are too arrogant to admit this, their propaganda rags have to say “they are all the same” the political parties.

Tories wanted austerity for ideological reasons, but they have made the situation much worse. But they do not hqve the integrity to admit this. Instead they play “look over there………….”

Usual tory media playing defence.

“Tories wanted austerity for ideological reasons”

What reasons were these?

5. Frances_coppola

Personally I think Osborne called the economy wrong – he thought that the economy was starting to recover and that therefore further stimulus was not necessary, so started to embark on supply-side reforms that with hindsight have turned out to be premature. Whether the forthcoming recession is due solely to the Eurozone problems, as he would have us believe, or due to the idiocy of attempting to cut a fiscal deficit when the private sector is net saving and export markets are imploding, is a matter of debate. The fact is that it would appear he is doing some kind of U-turn while pretending that it was what he meant all along and blaming the other side for his mistakes. ‘Twas ever thus, in politics.

@5 – Really? Nope, he’s not reversing the cuts, or making life any easier for poorer people. In fact, he’s slashing (“freeze” – which is of course dropping it by inflation) the benefit I do claim, tax credits, for yet another workfare scheme.

They’re focusing aid on companies, not people. It’s NOT a reverse, it’s a tangent. And given consumer confidence is one of the major root issue…

7. Frances_coppola

@6 Leon

Well, since he doesn’t accept that it’s his policies that are driving the economy into recession, he is hardly going to reverse the headline cuts, is he? No, he’ll throw money at something else instead to try to counteract the effect, of course. And fail.

To be sure they are being found out for the useless fuckers that they are.

To be sure on the economy they are being found out for the incompetent fools they are.

Corporate welfare is their answer. Lots of lovely scrumptious delicious. Corporate welfare dished out to their friends.

You know, the same friends who tell us the govt can’t do anything, and welfare should be abolished.

11. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

To be sure on the economy they are being found out for the incompetent fools they are.

Same old Milquetoast liberalism; unable to tell the difference between stupidity and malice.

12. Leon Wolfson

@11 – They’re not exactly always distinguishable or separable with the Tories, to be fair.

13. Fraser Nelson

Sunny, interesting post as always. There are plenty cheerleaders for Osborne, but I’m not one of them. My criticism is that after all that fuss he’s giving us an only-slightly-souped-up version of Darling’s plan. I’m afraid I think neither plan comes up to what we need to get the economy moving again. And my concern is that Osborne, in his never-ending search for the middle ground of politics, has remained stuck in Brown’s groove. And that, when the next election come, radical reformers like Ireland will be speeding away to recovery – while Britain has settled down to a Japanese-style zero era. Your blog is brilliant taking aim at partisan Conservatives, but to be clear: it ain’t me you’re looking for. Not on this issue.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to make a few more points.

Balls’ rhetoric is at variance with Darlings’ budget. But so was Darling’s rhetoric. Labour spoke about “investment vs cuts’ yet published pre-election plans would have meant an average cut across gvt departments of 2.2pc a year – vs 3pc which the coalition plans now. My first point is that we should be wary of both political parties talking one game, while playing another. Look at what politicians do, not what they day. We’re taking too much of this BS at face value, from both parties.

And yes, I don’t think Osborne is doing enough. I’d have hoped he’d have upped his game as headwinds strengthened, but suspect I’ll be disappointed on Tuesday. Sure, he could cut more – but austerity is not enough. My concern is that he has no ideas on supply-side. I’d like to see him cut tax on the low paid, as the Swedish government did. This is one of the few areas that I agree with Blanchflower. Osborne has a phobia against what he calls ‘unfunded tax cuts’ he’s fine with unfunded spending increases, oddly. But let’s leave that aside. I’d be happy to finance the tax cut by cutting even more spending. But that’s not the gut’s position.

You don’t need to crunch numbers. Darling published his five-year spending plans and so has Osborne. By 2014/15, Darling wanted to spend £772bn and Osorne plans to spend £744bn. The difference between these two is £28bn. So by the end of these five years, state spending will be 4% lower than Darling had planned. I’m making a plea for both left and right to actually quantify the cuts, so we can have a more meaningful discussion. We don’t have to “debate endlessly” if the difference is big or small. We can simply quantify it.

Growth prospects did rapidly evaporate, but I’d also factor in inflation. Britain has the worst inflation in Europe right now, and I’m not sure how commentators allow Tory and Labour to ignore the fact. It suits the Tories not to confront the appalling rise in cost of living, and it suits Labour to pretend that all the bad stuff is the result of harsh cuts. But surely those of us not aligned to either can point out that people’s purchasing power is being decimated, this hits the poorest hardest – and also saps confidence. I’m not saying the growth evaporation is 100% to do with the return of inflation, or the BoE’s failure to predict/understand what’s going on. But it is a factor, and I think an independent critique of gvt policy would be strengthened by acknowledging it.

Finally, as to the bond markets, I have one final theory – which you’ll disagree with. I think that had Brown been elected, his plan to cut departmental spending by 2.2% would have been hardened – given the backdrop of sovereign debt crisis. So he’d have cut further, like he did in 97-00. I think Osborne is cutting as slowly as he dares right now, and that in gvt Balls would not be talking about debt being the solution – as he can, obviously, do from opposition. So I do agree with Toby that being relaxed about more borrowing would land us in trouble with the bond markets. We’re treading on very thin ice, which may still crack.

14. Fraser Nelson

Sunny, interesting post as always. There are plenty cheerleaders for Osborne, but I’m not one of them. My criticism is that after all that fuss he’s giving us an only-slightly-souped-up version of Darling’s plan. I’m afraid I think neither plan comes up to what we need to get the economy moving again. And my concern is that Osborne has remained stuck in Brown’s groove. And that, when the next election come, radical reformers like Ireland will be speeding away to recovery – while Britain has settled down to a Japanese-style zero era. Your blog is brilliant taking aim at partisan Conservatives, but to be clear: it ain’t me you’re looking for. Not on this issue.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to make a few more points.

Balls’ rhetoric is at variance with Darlings’ budget. But so was Darling’s rhetoric. Labour spoke about “investment vs cuts’ yet published pre-election plans would have meant an average cut across gvt departments of 2.2pc a year – vs 3pc which the coalition plans now. My first point is that we should be wary of both political parties talking one game, while playing another. Look at what politicians do, not what they day. We’re taking too much of this BS at face value, from both parties.

And yes, I don’t think Osborne is doing enough. I’d have hoped he’d have upped his game as headwinds strengthened, but suspect I’ll be disappointed on Tuesday. Sure, he could cut more – but austerity is not enough. My concern is that he has no ideas on supply-side. I’d like to see him cut tax on the low paid, as the Swedish government did. This is one of the few areas that I agree with Blanchflower. Osborne has a phobia against what he calls ‘unfunded tax cuts’ he’s fine with unfunded spending increases, oddly. But let’s leave that aside. I’d be happy to finance the tax cut by cutting even more spending. But that’s not the gut’s position.

You don’t need to crunch numbers. Darling published his five-year spending plans and so has Osborne. By 2014/15, Darling wanted to spend £772bn and Osorne plans to spend £744bn. The difference between these two is £28bn. So by the end of these five years, state spending will be 4% lower than Darling had planned. I’m making a plea for both left and right to actually quantify the cuts, so we can have a more meaningful discussion. We don’t have to “debate endlessly” if the difference is big or small. We can simply quantify it.

Growth prospects did rapidly evaporate, but I’d also factor in inflation. Britain has the worst inflation in Europe right now, and I’m not sure how commentators allow Tory and Labour to ignore the fact. It suits the Tories not to confront the appalling rise in cost of living, and it suits Labour to pretend that all the bad stuff is the result of harsh cuts. But surely those of us not aligned to either can point out that people’s purchasing power is being decimated, this hits the poorest hardest – and also saps confidence. I’m not saying the growth evaporation is 100% to do with the return of inflation, or the BoE’s failure to predict/understand what’s going on. But it is a factor, and I think an independent critique of gvt policy would be strengthened by acknowledging it.

Finally, as to the bond markets, I have one final theory – which you’ll disagree with. I think that had Brown been elected, his plan to cut departmental spending by 2.2% would have been hardened – given the backdrop of sovereign debt crisis. So he’d have cut further, like he did in 97-00. I think Osborne is cutting as slowly as he dares right now, and that in gvt Balls would not be talking about debt being the solution – as he can, obviously, do from opposition. So I do agree with Toby that being relaxed about more borrowing would land us in trouble with the bond markets. We’re treading on very thin ice, which may still crack.

15. Frances_coppola

Fraser,

Cutting taxes for the low paid would be a demand stimulus, not supply-side. Supply-side stimulus would include measures such as cutting corporation tax, SME loan guarantee scheme, cutting the minimum wage, reducing employment costs such as employer’s NI, general labour market reforms and reduction of business regulation. All of which I think Osborne has either proposed or is thinking about.

16. Mike Killingworth

[13][14] (For some reason, there was a double post. If it’s any consolation to FN, I have found recently that it takes ages for my posts to appear on the site…)

Could you please explain two things, FN, for those of us whose economics is a bit one-paced?

BTW I think the reason Osborne is relaxed about inflation is because it’s really the only debt-eating engine there is.

You seem to be in favour of further liberalization than Osbourne deems it politically safe to bring forward. (1) Why do you think it is politically safe, and (2) are there any economic circumstances in which you would not propose further liberalisation (i.e. reduction of regulation and welfare)?

I’ve said along that the coalition excessive obsession with the deficit above all other considerations would come back to haunt them. There is no longer any question over whether they will meet the fiscal consolidation target for 2015/16, they will not achieve the target if they continue with current policies. Growth is the problem, not the absolute debt or running deficit. There has never been a coherent growth plan that I could see. The private sector are never going to increase investment if they have no idea what the government are trying to achieve. Without an increase in private sector investment, growth will suffer.

Just spending more money will not get the UK economy out of a hole. However, targeted permanent tax cuts that have the effect of slowing the fiscal consolidation have a completely different effect if they are part of an overall strategy. The coalition can’t see that because of their obsessive belief that cutting expenditure would be enough. The tax cuts must be signaled as permanent as that spurs private sector expectations to increase investment. The UK budget did need to be consolidated. However, depressing the economy and putting it in the toilet to try to achieve a balanced budget is useless.

It is possible to grow the economy and consolidate without trying to do it off the back of those at the bottom and harming front-line services. Uber-bear Tim Morgan outlined a few proposals that should be targeted on the prosperous who are currently gorging on the public teat. UK public spending contains huge amount of public subsidies for people who do not need the welfare. Everyone is going to suffer to some degree over the next decade. Those who gained the most from society should lose the most from the public teat. Ending middle class welfare will do no harm to UK growth prospects and allow the consolidation to proceed with a high degree of fairness.
http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2011/11/23/759531/what-if-the-uk-misses-its-deficit-reduction-target/

18. Mike Killingworth

[17] Richard, I notice you don’t bother to mention how you propose to sell these cuts to the electorate, and in particular to the families and pensioners affected.

One reason the cuts are aimed so much at the poorest may not be because Tories are naturally evil as because the coalition has little electoral support from them.

I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why economics are more powerful than politics. “Because that’s what I did at Uni” is the wrong answer BTW.

18. Mike Killingworth

” Richard, I notice you don’t bother to mention how you propose to sell these cuts to the electorate, and in particular to the families and pensioners affected. ”

It is not for me to tell politicians how they should rescind their promises. Obviously I would not start from here as someone famously observed. They could stop making promises that they will not be around to fulfill. The argument that it is more equitable should be foremost. They could point out that over the last forty years or so there has been wholesale looting of society by the recently retired. An unprecedented intergenerational heist. It is time to return some of the ill-gotten gains to our young who after all are our future. Even a lefty like Gerry Hassan who usually talks rubbish recognises that reality.
http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/opinion/cartoon/gerry_hassan_the_baby_boomers_can_t_afford_to_sit_on_their_assets_1_1986188

” One reason the cuts are aimed so much at the poorest may not be because Tories are naturally evil as because the coalition has little electoral support from them. ”

Doing what is right should not be about electoral support. We have really reached a sorry state if party politicians are only going to follow policies that directly benefit those who voted for them. Leadership should be about doing what you believe are the best policies even though it might make some of your voters worse off. If that is not the case, then democracy itself has no future.

” I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why economics are more powerful than politics. “Because that’s what I did at Uni” is the wrong answer BTW. ”

In most clashes between politics and economics, politics in the short-run triumphs. In the long-run economics comes back and destroys the politics that triumphed over it. The reason is quite simple. Economics is reality, politics is wishful thinking.

20. Leon Wolfson

@13 – WHERE the cuts are made are, frankly, far more critical. If the changes were near-identical, but there was no VAT rise, for example, we’d be in a far better situation with consumer confidence…

@1. Mike Killingworth: “Those of us who are old enough to remember Heath’s U-turn – let alone his panic in the face of the 1973 oil price hike, when he issued ration books for petrol – yes, ration books were last issued by a Tory government…”

Historical note: the petrol ration books issued in 1973 were left overs from post-WWII rationing. Somewhere, somebody in the civil service had stored away millions of ration books (there were millions of cars on the road in the UK in 1973) in the event of some cold war scenario. I understand that the MoD sold off all of the low compression Morris 8 engines that it had stock piled for pumping appliances…

With this news report from the Telegraph in October, I thought an early start had already been made in cutting middle-class welfare benefits:

Elderly patients condemned to early death by secret use of do not resuscitate orders

Elderly patients are being condemned to an early death by hospitals making secret use of “do not resuscitate” orders, an investigation has found.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/elderhealth/8829350/Elderly-patients-condemned-to-early-death-by-secret-use-of-do-not-resuscitate-orders.html

Consider the fiscal and political benefits from this policy option for paying down the the budget deficit sooner rather than later:

– Pensioners are an increasing cost burden for the NHS

– Their earlier demise cuts the cost of paying out state pensions

– They won’t be around at the next election to register their democratic protest

Surely the TPA will get on to this policy now that it is in the news.

@17. Richard W: “The private sector are never going to increase investment if they have no idea what the government are trying to achieve. Without an increase in private sector investment, growth will suffer.”

You’ve got me bamboozled here, Richard. You aren’t keen on managerial government (me neither), so how does government encourage private sector investment? Is signalling a form of central governance?

Post banking collapse, governments supported banks on the basis that 1) new loans would be less risky and 2) banks would carry more deposits. Both propositions imply less lending would occur, which is what has happened (I believe).

How do banks loan more whilst meeting the criteria for the government investment that kept them going?

Charlieman,

Government influences private sector investment decisions through expectations of the future route of policy. Therefore, the language of key ministers signals information to the private sector even when the private sector are collectively unaware of the signaling. When the coalition had their summer 2010, OMG we could be Greece moment private sector investment immediately started to decline. Investment can increase even in the midst of net bank lending decreasing. There are record amounts of money sitting on UK corporate balance sheets. They will only invest if they believe the money can generate a return and a strong signal for higher forward profits are permanent tax cuts.

I recognise that the uncertainty in the EZ is an added factor holding back UK and EZ investment. Just on some equity valuations alone there is almost free money lying around. Equity investors are reluctant to pick up the free money because of the huge unprecedented risk of the EZ collapsing. In that event things would get even cheaper. Therefore, it is not surprising that the actual corporate firms themselves are reluctant to invest for fear of collapse in the EZ. Better to keep a big cushion of money on the balance sheet rather than put the money to work. When everyone does the same we get stagnation. The way around the problems is through the monetary policy of targeting an NGDP growth path. That would get things moving through firms knowing what to expect.

This govt came with a fetish about the deficit. They asked all ministry’s to see how they could save 40%. They delared war on the public sector. Not a great idea seeing as public sector workers have job security, which might encourag3 them to spend. But no, chancellor pip squeak managed to scare the shit out of them.

And now,in a desperate attemt to bail th3mselves out we find a right wing govt using the states power to act as a bank of last resort. Yes, you heard that right. The party who tells us that the state is worthless will now take on the role of guarantee for the private banking industry. It is un fucking believable,and we hear not a jot from the usual tory trolls, and tax payers alliance bullshit outfits.

Please no more Rand clap trap from the usual suspects about how the privare seor an do it all. We now have right wing govt effectively nationalizing the risk of private banks.

Sunny, you are getting this completely twisted around.

You start by saying Darling and Osbourne’s plans are similar – which is true. If Lablour had won the election and Darling remained chancellor and Labour actually followed his plan you might be right.

Except the reality is that everyone knew that if Labour had won Brown would have installed Balls as chancellor. Between them they were the architects of Labours massive spending spree and neither are credible when it comes to austerity. The Darling plan would have gone straight out the window. Can you really imagine as cynical politicans as Brown and Balls implementing any policy which would cost them votes.

So it’s all well and good talking about the Darling plan but it was a dose of realism to the fanciful that was never going to be listened to or enacted.

You also seem to confuse the Tory party with political commentators – people in newspapers or on blogs can say what they want without it being government policy remember?

I think we’ve been through this before Sunny. It’s perfectly coherent for a critique of Labour’s economic policy to simultaneously acknowledge that Labour planned to cut roughly as much as the Tories (distinctions of a few 10s of billions are virtually lost in the wash in a 650bn budget), but also that they posed a genuine risk to the UK’s credit rating.

That’s because at no stage did Labour identify what they’d be cutting. They set out topline figures to be cut, and left it at that. No Comprehensive Spending Review when in Government, no attempt to set out cuts in their manifesto. Since the election they are on the record as opposing every single spending cut and every tax rise implemented by the Government,

“You have to admire the Conservative ability to spout completely contradictory narratives amongst themselves without breaking out into a massive civil war. But there is it: Toby Young is claiming this morning that if we followed Labour’s plans the Bond markets would be in meltdown, while his mate Fraser Nelson is saying the difference wasn’t actually all that much.”

Wow, two members of a political party disagree on something. How shocking.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Rosie

    Funny: Conservatives aren't sure if Labour plans on the economy a) would wreck it; b) aren't different to their own http://t.co/nnHiwJHH

  2. Tom Spencer

    Funny: Conservatives aren't sure if Labour plans on the economy a) would wreck it; b) aren't different to their own http://t.co/nnHiwJHH

  3. Kal Singh Dhindsa

    Funny: Conservatives aren't sure if Labour plans on the economy a) would wreck it; b) aren't different to their own http://t.co/nnHiwJHH

  4. sunny hundal

    Could @frasernels clarify? Does he think Tory/Labour plans similar or latter would wreck our economy? http://t.co/nnHiwJHH

  5. Chris Paul

    Funny: Conservatives aren't sure if Labour plans on the economy a) would wreck it; b) aren't different to their own http://t.co/nnHiwJHH

  6. Peter M P Lilley

    Conservatives aren't sure if they saved the economy or copied …: Various Conservative commentators claimed tha… http://t.co/IlJEwene

  7. Andrew G

    Conservatives aren’t sure if they saved the economy or copied Labour plans | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/K0TTnfOw via @libcon

  8. Amy Caine

    “@libcon: Conservatives aren't sure if they saved the economy or copied Labour plans http://t.co/7k3JkSza” uh hum!!

  9. lesa

    RT @libcon: Conservatives aren't sure if they saved the economy or copied Labour plans http://t.co/9ay0j7cK

  10. Jamie

    Conservatives aren’t sure if they saved the economy or copied Labour plans http://t.co/dcnF9iZx

  11. Rob Flello MP

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  12. GORDON LYEW

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  13. lesa

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  14. Garryq

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  15. Andy Buckley-Taylor

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  16. sunny hundal

    Spectator's @frasernels replies to me asking why Tories unsure if Labour isn't credible or v similar http://t.co/LhoagXwl – 'cuts too small'

  17. Jamie

    Spectator's @frasernels replies to me asking why Tories unsure if Labour isn't credible or v similar http://t.co/LhoagXwl – 'cuts too small'

  18. Janet Graham

    Spectator's @frasernels replies to me asking why Tories unsure if Labour isn't credible or v similar http://t.co/LhoagXwl – 'cuts too small'

  19. Jon Stone

    Spectator's @frasernels replies to me asking why Tories unsure if Labour isn't credible or v similar http://t.co/LhoagXwl – 'cuts too small'

  20. Peter Lilley

    Conservatives aren't sure if they saved the economy or copied …: Various Conservative commentators claimed tha… http://t.co/PMtzsK8H

  21. John Edginton

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems

  22. Lee Hyde

    Tories accuse Labour of being deficit deniers.Then say their plan is almost the same as Labour's http://t.co/NhxOhauO #ToryFail #FibDems





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