Talk of the deficit is very much in vogue, and the opposition leaders are fighting like toddlers in a ball pit in an attempt to air their own plans to cut the country's deficit. Meanwhile, Dave and fellow toff George Osbourne look so chuffed about cutting the deficit by only taking money from people who were never going to vote for them in the first place, that they risk bursting into an unholy Eton mess.
What is increasingly being lost is the distinction between the deficit and the national debt. Paying off the deficit is one thing, but attempting to pay off the national debt will be when the party really gets going. With our politicians increasingly coached on how to appear interesting without saying anything of worth, knowledgeable without giving any evidence, and prophetic without committing to what they are having for dinner next Tuesday, let alone a budget one year hence - will we ever get straight talk from them again?
For confirmation of this, one only needs to look at how politicians are handling the issue of the national debt. Scour the televised debates or the party manifestos, and you will find scant mentioning of the national debt. Indeed, in the recent five party debate, it was only Nigel Farage who was prepared to acknowledge the crushing weight of Britain's national debt - and you know when big Nige is the only one speaking sense then we, as a nation, are going down the metaphorical pan.
Politicians have thus scratched any reference to the national debt off the script completely, and have instead replaced it with 'the deficit'. I feel that this attempted conflation of terms equates almost to a purposeful deception, and the motivation behind it is simple: our national debt is more out of control than Berlusconi at a Bunga Bunga party.
He's having a great time... Credit: Rastrojo via Wikipedia
Labour doesn't want to say anything because the debt spiral arguably began under the watch of the toxic twins, Blair and Brown. Additionally, if they did manage to get into power they also know they there is more chance of Ed Balls turning into a life-size scrotum, than any significant reduction of the national debt occurring. Equally, the Conservatives and Lib Dems will keep very quiet on the matter, seeing as the national debt has roughly doubled since austerity measures began. Admitting that the national debt is now larger than a potential lovechild between John Prescott and Ann Widdecombe, would seriously undermine both parties' claims to be fiscally responsible.
You may think this is overblown nonsense from just another click-baiting hack. But let's look at the facts. The UK Government debt currently amounts to £1.56 trillion, or 81.58% of GDP. Meanwhile, the amount it costs to service this debt is around £43 billion a year. Standing between the British Government and this total debt is that holy of holies, 'the deficit'. Last year the deficit fell to £90 billion, from a record high of £153 billion in 2009-2010. As dangerous Dave smoothly reassures us this shortfall is coming down, we must remember to shake ourselves free from his hypnotic tone, and remember that this number is not just a fixed amount that we are slowly paying off, but a vast amount of money that rolls over and adds to the already mountainous level of national debt every year.
Assume we reach 2018 and the deficit is cleared: Britain is now in a position to reduce its debt pile in real terms. But how? Government spending is already in the process of being decimated in an effort to clear the deficit. As societal factors such as an ageing population, looming housing crisis, and a chronically underfunded health service continue to make their presence known, there is likely to be little, if any leeway on an already beleaguered budget. That just leaves tax rises, and the hope that the economy will grow above inflation year on year, with very little possibility of government-funded stimulus. With David Cameron promising to prevent tax raises, as well as providing 40 more public holidays and to abolish the season of winter, and Ed not wanting to come across as a psychotic communist - the former seems relatively limited in scope as well.
I have here...a time bomb. Credit: HM Treasury via Flickr
To put this in some perspective, I am going to portray the UK as a normal citizen, with a total income of £20,000. Their current debt pile is £16,316 and rising, as they are still £800 over budget this year. This member of the public has already ditched Sainsburys for Lidl, and the kids don't want to summer holiday in Middlesbrough for the weekend again. The breadwinner of this family must either borrow more, invest in their future and hope an Open University degree is the way out of debt, or further cut their spending. A country's economy doesn't simply get promotions or change jobs to gain a significant income change, thus for the sake of the example, this person's salary must effectively double (once inflation is considered), before they can clear their name.
I'm not saying that clearing the country's debt is impossible; however, it is a very serious topic which I believe has been thoroughly swept under the carpet by the main parties. Dave has already been warned in the past for mixing up the two terms, and the difficulty and likely pain of the task ahead, means that this has continued across the parties, albeit inexplicitly. If the UK is to stand any chance of significantly reducing its debt pile, then what is needed is a serious debate about how to do it, not politicians sticking their heads in the sand and imploring us to join them.