Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland; Chapter 5: Wool and Water.
First it was clear: Ken Clarke totally agreed with the EU report on the deficit. He was clear, at least to this listener, on a 3% deficit by the end of the next Parliament. Others heard the same:
Appearing on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, fell into a small hole. He started endearingly by wandering down memory lane saying “in my day”, forgetting he is supposed to be still very much in his day. He then endorsed the commission’s call for a faster reduction of the deficit, at which point Byrne pounced, claiming Clarke had just committed his party to further cuts.
Sensing he needed to get back on message – territory that he rarely inhabits for long – Clarke said the Conservative goal was to cut the bulk of the structural deficit by the end of the parliament. “Bulk” is a conveniently imprecise word.
James Kirkup, in his Telegraph blog, seemed to hear something similar. Curiously, in the course of the day, this was supplanted by an erudite calculation of the membership of Unite (but the comments remained, like the lingering smile of that Cheshire Cat). Even stranger, the taster for that piece was also left hanging in the air:
Ken Clarke’s appearance on Today with Liam Byrne appears to have started a minor spat about Tory plans. (Mr Byrne is making noise about Mr Clarke’s comments on eliminating the “structural deficit”. He’s barking up the wrong tree, because: a) Mr Clarke did, actually, say he wants to get rid of …
The rest is silence.
Something similar was happening on “Lord” Ashcroft of Sleaze’s PoliticsHome. At one point there was an article:
That, too, may have gone AWOL.
Oops Ken Clarke just departed from the ‘bulk’ script. “It’s necessary to *get rid of* the structural deficit”. Also agreed £20bn xtra cuts
Ken Clarke backtracking re ‘getting rid of deficit’. Just told SkyNews “in the next breath I sd I’d get rid of the bulk of it”
So the question remains:
- The leaked EU line (and, as far as Malcolm knows, it is only a leak) is that the UK deficit should be reduced to 3% GDP by 2014/15;
- the current budget proposals suggest that, as things stand, the deficit in 2014/15 would be down to 4.6%.
- Clark is looking for a further £29-30 billion cuts (which, at least, is an honest position: clean-cut, no waffle; but not the Tory obfuscating line);
- He accepts that something less (split the difference?) amounts to the “bulk” of the deficit (which may well be what we hear in Darling’s budget, anyway).
Which brings us to the amazing disappearing Gideon Osborne, who adopted “purdah” for today’s Commons debate.
After all, there are no contradictions implicit in Osborne’s article, yesterday, for the Financial Times:
Our macroeconomic view, in short, can be stated as follows. We must escape from economic management by quarterly indicators and the demands of the political cycle. Our problems, at the core, result from short-termism, in which governments have led and bankers chasing high bonuses have been only too keen to follow.
Our priority should be a medium-term fiscal framework, with the first steps starting this year. That must be matched by improvements in the delivery of health, education, skills, and technology; social protection for those in need; and a decent regard for the long-term investments needed to rebuild an economy crushed by the bubbles of wishful thinking.
A quarterly-indicator is “bad”: a reduction “this year” is “good”. A “medium-term” plan is “good”: a plan over a single parliament is “bad”.
Time for another, late, breakfast.