In the office a while back, we were discussing when fiscal realities would finally force the Liberal Democrats to abandon their misguided pledge to scrap tuition fees.  A journalist asked whether this could be spun as a battle between the right and left of the party.

No, this is not ideology,  was the thought: this is a battle between what could be done in 2001 and in 2011.  Plain arithmetic made it impossible to even consider bunging money to the better educated in 2011.

Then some wiseguy cracked: “Perhaps they have an ideological split in the party about arithmetic . . . ”

No they don’t, as Vince‘s stab at starting the fiscal debate shows.   But I can’t help wondering if Gordon Brown has been waging such a fight against what Adding Up Numbers amount to.  The reason I say this is that the calculations leaked by the Treasury (here in the Standard) do not require a mathematical whizz to work out (like the IFS with their spreadsheet).   Back in June, when Brown was contorting himself to avoid the truth that existing plans require cuts, it was obvious.    Now, it is still obvious.   Their calculations (see Standard) are not that different from mine in June – some unavoidable items (AME) will rise inexorably with debt and social security payments, leaving a decreasing real amount for the others stuff.

I literally used a fag packet.

It was obvious.  It was Year 5 arithmetic.  The squirming Cabinet ministers knew it.  The watching journalists knew it.  Denying it was akin to Dick Cheney, standing up to his neck in the flooded Louisiana plain, boldly claiming that Global Warming was a total fiction.

So, if it was obvious, did it matter?  Yes.  By obfuscating the issue, Brown was allowing some misguided steam to build up behind some movement to deny the need to impose some sort of restraint from 2011 onwards.  Note: I don’t mean from next year, as the debate with Anthony illustrates.  But at some point we need to have cuts, and Brown has put off the debate.  More importantly, he has let the Tories off the hook. So long as the Party with All the Data was able to deny that cuts were coming, then Cameron did not have to meet his “honesty test” -(see Liberal Conspiracy) a test he would have had real difficulties passing.  Months have been wasted – what a pity for Labour.

“Our opponents are claiming that 700 minus 150 equals 550, Prime Minister”

“I refuse to be drawn into that.  Labour stands for fairness, the Tories for harvesting baby organs and pushing pensioners into the snow to die.  That’s what counts”.


7 thoughts on “Leaked Treasury Document: the ideological battle over arithmetic

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