How long can a Prime Minister in a democracy lie to his country and get away with it? Gordon Brown is trying to find out. His Big Lie - that his published plans do not involve a cut in public services - would not have withstood a Spending Review, which would have spelled out departmental budgets from April 2011-April 2014. So, it has been postponed.
Current sending is being run on budgets set out in the 2007 review (itself delayed) which lasts until 2010-11. Since it was drafted the forecast for 2010-11 tax revenue has fallen by some £150bn. So should not budgets be altered to reflect the (to put it politely) changed economic conditions? Of course. But Brown is delaying this, as it would expose his lie: that public spending will continue to rise under him. He has already factored in cuts: we saw that in the spending envelopes laid out in the last Budget. But a Spending Review would make brutally clear what would be cut. I suspect it would show that Labour would cut the NHS budget while the Tories would not. It would have proven what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown (see chart): that departmental spending would be cut by 7 percent in real terms over that three year period. It would have exploded the lie on which Brown hopes to base the next election campaign.
The Tories had believed (bless) that Brown would be honour bound to publish a Spending Review in March. Today's delay of this review was of course announced not by the Chancellor but by Peter Mandelson, who deployed his serpentine skills to full effect on Radio Four this morning while Evan Davis almost exploded with indignation. It's great that the BBC has a presenter who understands immediately what the delay of a Spending Review implies, and who instantly rejected Mandelson's claim that we have to wait and see how the economy does - because, as he knows, no economist has a rosier forecasts than that portrayed by HMT in the Budget.
But Davis should have said, rather calmly, "Can I put it to you, Lord Mandelson, that this unprecedented delay of the Spending Review is due to your inability to be honest with the British public about what your spending plans involve? You say the Tories would cut by 10 percent and want us to believe you would not do the same - but a Spending Review as planned under your system would, of course, force you to show your hand. Is your opinion of the public's intelligence really so low?"
We live in interesting times. Brown's claim that he'd increase public service spending year after year is not an exaggeration, it is a lie. I cannot think of any modern Prime Minister who has based his strategy on a demonstrable lie - but Brown thinks no one can add up enough to expose him. After all, he got away with it as Chancellor. Why not now? As I have said before I believe the internet will hound him. We have infinite space to print the tables, the data, the proof. The table above spells it out, and we will keepm reprinting it every time Brown repeats his lie. He is going for broke - in every way.
PS Under Brown's system, Spending Reviews cover three-year periods, but are updated every two years. We had one in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004. But the next one - intended as Brown's pre-election manifesto - was then delayed to Oct 2007. It was getting out of synch: to make forecasts beyond April 2011 departments really needed to see a Spending Review last year. That was delayed, and now Mandelson (rather than Darling, of course) has announced we won't get one until after the election. So the whole point of Spending Reviews - giving departments greater visibility - has been junked so Brown can continue to spin his Big Lie hoping no one can do a calculation like the one above.