Peter Hoskin

Your guide to Labour’s latest attack

Your guide to Labour's latest attack
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So much for the positive vision.  Labour have spent most of the day attacking the Tories and their national insurance cut.  You'd have heard Brown trying to wheel out statistics about it during his Today Programme interview. And then the PM's press conference, alongside Peter Mandelson and Alistair Darling, reduced to a How The Tories' Sums Don't Add Up session.

One thing that's striking about the latest attacks is how Labour are slipping, with calculated ease, between different figures to represent the efficiency savings that the Tories hope will fund their NI policy.  Here's a quick guide to the numbers, so you know what's what:

£6 billion: This is roughly how much the Tories think the Exchequer will lose from their national insurance plan.  They hope to cover this by cutting public spending by £6 billion this year – and those cuts will come from efficiency savings.  This is what Brown means when he says the Tories' NI plans will "take £6 billion out of the economy" – because, well, he doesn't think that the real world where people spend their own money is the economy.

£12 billion: This is the total sum of extra efficiency savings that the Tories hope to make this year.  This includes the £6 billion which will be used to fund the national insurance cut, and the other £6 billion represents efficiency savings that the Tories will put back into the public sector.  So wasted spending in the NHS, for instance, will be whacked on the head, and spent more wisely within the NHS – or at least that's the plan. This is why Brown doesn't talk about £12 billion being "taken out of the economy".

£27 billion: This is the sum of the £15 billion of efficiency savings that Labour hopes to make this year, with the £12 billion extra that the Tories would make.  Brown gleefully describes this as "half of the schools budget" – the implication being that the Tory plans would damage frontline services.  But another question to ask is how we can trust Labour to deliver their own £15 billion worth, when pretty much all their previous efficiency drives have failed to deliver the efficiencies that were claimed (see, for example, the National Audit Office here).

It's true: delivering £27 billion of efficiencies will be a Big Ask for a Tory government.  But that doesn't stop Brown's attacks and insinuations being disingenous in the extreme.  So what's new?