David Blackburn

Cable catches a broadside

Cable catches a broadside
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What is the difference between 'an alternative’ and 'an addition’? It is on this question that the Liberal Democrat manifesto turns. If there is a difference, then there is a substantial black hole in their deficit reduction plans.

There is a difference. The manifesto presents a £3.4bn public sector payroll measure as an addition to existing government measures, when in fact the small-print discloses that it’s an alternative. Caught double counting, at best the Lib Dems would cut £36.6bn of the £40bn or so pledged. Under further scrutiny from Andrew Neil and Stephanie Flanders, Cable could not define where a further £10bn of cuts was coming from. £20bn of the remaining £26.6bn of planned cuts to halve the deficit are pre-existing government efficiencies. 

The Lib Dems have made fiscal competence and responsibility their issue, but Vince's imperious ship was demasted in a brutal five minutes. Andrew Neil pointed out that Lib Dem defence cuts had not accounted for the contractual penalties incurred by cancelation. George Osborne produced a letter from the former head of HMRC’s tax avoidance unit, saying that Cable’s estimates on the yield gained from closing loopholes were fanciful. There was more. The Lib Dems errorneously claim that the Tories will raise VAT without ruling out a rise themselves. And, according to Cable, the Tories’ national insurance measure and those who support it are ‘nauseating’, but the same measure exists as an aspiration in the Lib Dem manifesto.     

For all his presentational and political skills and his extraordinary ability to express complicated economic arguments with clarity, Cable floundered on the detail. In fact, he sank.