In final UK election debate, candidates dodge No. 1 issue: the deficit
David Cameron topped snap polls after last night's final debate ahead of the May 6 UK election. But he, Brown, and Clegg all stand accused of avoiding discussion of how to reduce Britain's massive deficit.
(Page 2 of 2)
A ComRes poll for ITV, a television station, put the Tory leader at 35 percent, Clegg at 33 percent, and Brown at 26 percent.
With the clock now ticking down to voting day next week, last night may have been the prime minister’s final chance to change the course of his party’s flagging election campaign, with polls continuing to show it in third place.
Indeed, when the launch of a new Labour poster was interrupted today by a car crash, media covering the event detected a fatal symbolism. Just as Brown was about to speak about the new campaign, a Volkswagen Golf smashed into a bus shelter yards away from where 10 cabinet ministers were lined up in front of the posters in Birmingham.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson denied afterward that the smash was a metaphor for his party’s campaign.
Britain going the way of Greece?
A sobering reminder of just what is at stake for the British economy has meanwhile been playing second fiddle to coverage of the election, in the form of the news that the debt-stricken Greek government had agreed to a draft outline of a €24 billion ($31.8 billion) rescue package that will include massive cuts in wages, state benefits, and tax increases.
With a deficit of 13.3 percent of GDP – compared to 9.8 percent in the case of Greece – the UK’s own debt has led many to suggest it is the Mediterranean state writ large.
Professor Wickens stresses that the much larger UK economy is likely to mitigate against the type of crisis Greece is now experiencing, but warns that urgent action is needed.
“This is an older problem that is steadily getting worse,” he says. “Since 2001 expenditure on welfare, schooling and health has been doubled while revenue raised from taxes have not matched that.”
“Only Greece seems to have had a structural deficit for as long," he adds. "Even when you look at other countries like Ireland and Spain that are facing major deficit issues now – in 2007 their expenditure and revenues were roughly in line.”
When it comes to next Thursday’s election, the choice facing the electorate has been cast in the form of either four years of draconian spending restraint under the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats on one side, or else five years of cuts under the Conservatives that would be unprecedented since World War II.
Britain’s institute of Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank to whose judgment all three parties largely defer, this week warned that taxes will almost certainly have to rise after the election.
It accused all three parties of failing to be open, but concluded that the Conservative Party had the biggest shortfall in its plans for public spending cuts forecast for between April 2011 and March 2015.