Fraser Nelson

Even Cable can’t defend the Lib Dems’ misleading poster

Even Cable can't defend the Lib Dems' misleading poster
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This poster by the LibDems is perhaps the most dishonest one of the campaign so far - and Vince Cable has pretty well admitted it to Jon Sopel on the Politics Show. Here's the exchange.

Jon Sopel:  I mean let’s leave aside whether or whether not there is a black hole in the Tory’s finances. Leave that to one side. You don’t know factually, that they are going to raise VAT. That is your conjecture.

St Vince Cable:
It is a conjecture and it’s a reasonable assumption and I wouldn’t claim anymore than that.

JS:
And that £389 is a rough figure plucked...

VC:
"It’s a ball park estimate of what it would require in order to fill that gap, and it seems a reasonable way of expressing that argument."

JS:
Would you rule out raising VAT?

VC:
No, I don’t. It’s something –

JS:
So therefore your position is no different to them.

Quite. The LibDems poster was so strikingly dishonest that it could have been designed by Ed Balls. We know that HM Treasury wanted to put VAT up to above 17.5 percent - but Balls and Brown blocked them, on the grounds that this would force the Tories to do so. (They reckon, rightly, that the Tories are minded towards taxing consumption rather than jobs). But George Osborne now thinks he has announced all the tax rises he needs to deal with what he imagines will be a £70bn-odd structural deficit. He's not ruling out a VAT increase and, personally, I regard an increase - or the extension of VAT to food and (gulp) magazines - as likely. But the LibDems here are basically lying about the Tory position. They do this locally, but seldom are so brazen as to do so nationally. And even Cable can't defend it.

P.S. for those interested, here is the unedited transcript of the VAT exchange:

Jon Sopel: Let me just move onto something else, which is the poster you unveiled this week, and I think we can show it to you. A reworking of the Labour tax bombshell. This is the Tory VAT bombshell. ‘You would pay £389 more a year in VAT under the Conservatives.’ Where does that figure come from?

Vince Cable: Well it comes from taking some of the spending commitments that the Tories have made in respect of taxation. In other words their Inheritance Tax pledge, particularly their commitment to cut National Insurance which they’ve made a big deal of over the last year. We know from experience that when they’re –

JS: Sorry to interrupt, but the poster says, ‘you would pay,’ not that you might pay. The Tories have said they will not raise it. They’ve got no plans to.

VC: Well it’s a reasonable prediction based on their past form, that when they’re forced to – when they are –

JS: But you pass it off as fact.

VC: We passed it off as a reasonable prediction of the way the would behave  -

JS: No, you don’t say – the poster doesn’t say this is a reasonable prediction, this says ‘you would pay.’ I mean I just come back to you want to –

VC: Well I’m trying to put this in fairly simple language. That the Tories have an enormous problem to do explaining how they would cover this big budget deficit which they’ve been talking about incessantly for months, they’ve got no explanation of how they’d do it. They’re now making – let me just finish the argument – they’re now making extra spending commitments. We’re saying on the basis of their past history when they’ve been in government, the way they deal with this is to increase Value Added Tax. That’s all we’re saying.

JS: Would you rule out raising VAT?

VC: No, I don’t. It’s something –

JS: So therefore your position is no different to them.

VC: It is fundamentally different because we’ve taken the view that if you’re tackling the problems of the big budget deficit, you’ve got to spell out -  you’ve got to look first of all at public spending and we’ve tried to do that and we’ve identified quite a substantial list of commitments that we would make in public spending which are much more explicit than the Conservative –

JS: But just in election campaign.

VC: Let me just finish the argument. The commitments we would make, the Conservatives haven’t been willing to do that. The problem is if you’re not willing  to do that –

JS: And the figure you reach is £389. Not £390, not £388, not £388.50.

VC: But that’s an attempt – it’s obviously an approximation, that’s simple common sense, but that’s the –

JS: but it’s not truthful.

VC:
Of course it is. We’re talking about a sum which equates to the gap that they are unable to explain.

JS: Sure, but then you are fighting a campaign saying we are not the corrupt politics and you’re using exactly the same tactics. I mean let’s leave aside whether or whether not there is a black hole in the Tory’s finances.  Leave that to one side. You don’t know factually, that they are going to raise VAT. That is your conjecture.

VC: It is a conjecture and it’s a reasonable assumption and I wouldn’t claim anymore than that.

JS: And that £389 is a rough figure plucked –

VC:
It’s a ball park estimate of what it would require in order to fill that gap, and it seems a reasonable way of expressing that argument.

JS: Sure, but then it is not clearly absolutely truthful that that is what they would do. It doesn’t say anywhere on the poster this is your conjecture. I’m just making the point that I know that this happens in election campaigns, but the Liberal Democrats are meant to be a bit cleaner, a bit kind of more honest about these things.

VC: If we published the poster with footnotes and notes to editors of what this figure actually  means, it would be counted as rather ridiculous, wouldn’t it? We’re trying to get across a basic simple message that the Conservatives have made very large commitments in respect of tax cutting and in respect of spending, which they’re not willing to explain how they’ll do it. That, in our view, is fundamentally dishonest politics. We’ve tried to suggest what in practice that would mean, and it almost certainly would mean a big increase in Value Added Tax. We’re just trying to illustrate it –

JS: It’s a good piece of propaganda.

VC: I would prefer to be talking positively about the things we would do in tax policy in respect to public spending.

JS: Well it’s your poster, this is your first poster.

VC: And it makes a perfectly reasonable point.

JS: Well if you would rather be talking about the positive message, you could have said, no, no, I’m sorry, let’s have a poster that deals with what we are going to do.

VC: Well, we’re having our Manifesto launched this week and you’ll be able to read all the positive things that we’re going to do and I’m very happy to talk about that.