“Literally we would not know what we were voting for if we were going to vote for Labour.” That is the damning verdict of Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on Ed Miliband’s manifesto launch yesterday. It is the last thing the party’s spin doctors will have wanted a respected third-party to be telling the nation. Infuriatingly for voters, is a statement which could apply to any of the main parties at this election.
Yesterday Miliband claimed that Labour are “the party of responsibility”, that they are making “a clear vow to protect our nation’s finances”, that “the deficit will be cut every year”, and that “this commitment to fiscal responsibility is the foundation” of their offer to the British people.
Just how serious are Labour about this unprecedented fiscal responsibility, suddenly found three weeks before polling day? The party’s leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, reveals: “Ed was really clear at the UK manifesto launch. It’s only Labour that will end austerity”. Over the weekend Murphy said, contrary to what Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna have been telling us, that Labour would not need to make “further cuts”. How on earth are voters supposed to understand what Labour are offering them? “Ending austerity” is the direct opposite of Miliband’s manifesto pledge.
Such two-faced attempts at being all things to all people run right through Labour’s manifesto. They tell English voters, who tend to be relatively more fiscally conservative, that they will be responsible with spending. Then they head north of the border and tell Scottish voters, who tend to be more left-wing, that they will end austerity. They tell white working class voters they will clamp down on immigration, then tell ethnic minorities they are the party of immigrants. They tell middle class taxpayers that they will be tough on welfare, then tell welfare recipients that only Labour will protect them from Tory benefit cuts. How can anyone believe a word these people say?
The Tories are hardly much better. For weeks, months, years, voters have heard that same rehearsed line from ministers about how the long term economic plan is working, how we must not deviate from the course we are on, how we must not swap ‘competence’ for ‘chaos’. Then, as if those years of strict message discipline had meant nothing, George Osborne announced at the weekend that the Tories would spend an extra £8 billion on the NHS.
The Tories want those voters who like their tough, sensible approach to the nation’s finances to hear their tough, sensible words about the long term economic plan. Then they want those other voters who aren’t convinced by the long term economic plan to see that, actually, that’s not what they’re doing at all, and really they are magicking from nowhere billions more to spend on massive election bribes.
Worse still, while attacking the Labour Party for fiscal recklessness and unfunded spending pledges, this new NHS commitment made by Osborne is completely unfunded. Over the last 48 hours Tory MPs have gone on the airwaves stonewalling questions about how they are going to fund big election handouts. After everything they have told us about how Labour can’t be trusted with the economy, how dare they?
When the main two parties treat voters so appallingly, flagrantly lying to their faces, telling one half of the country one thing and the rest another, it is no wonder no party is close to winning a majority. We live in an age where parties devoid of principle tell people what they think they want to hear and hope they will get away with it. The problem for them is they won’t get away with it. The mess that follows whoever ends up in Number 10 after May 7th is no less than these sorry parties deserve.