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Leader: Election pledges shed little light on feasibility of parties’ tax and spend plans

FROM the incoherent cacophony that was the so-called ‘seven dwarfs’ debate on ITV to the BBC’s more civilised but hardly more illuminating ‘challengers’ debate, Britain has entered a new era of multi-party politics with half a dozen leaders now clamouring for air time.

And so too the idea of multi-party government, with any one of UKIP, the SNP, Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power in any future coalition government as potential kingmakers. At the same time, exclusive manifestos have been replaced by the formation of broader alliances around core values, which sees the Conservatives aligned with UKIP in contrast to Labour and the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

But the greater heat generated by the expansion of the political landscape has failed to shed more light as to which parties’ manifesto pledges are the most feasible. The major parties’ plans to cut the deficit have been bereft of any real detail, leaving voters ‘in the dark’ as to how their spending plans will actually work in practice, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

With the deficit in 2014/15 still at 5% of national income all the main parties have pledged to reduce it over the coming parliament. And there are genuinely big differences between the main parties’ fiscal plans. The Conservatives’ plans could see national debt falling from about 80% of national income to 72% by the end of the parliament while debt might fall only as far as 77% under Labour plans. That’s a difference equivalent to about £90bn in today’s terms.

But according to the think-tank, the electorate can only see the “broad outlines” of that choice. While Labour was “considerably more vague” than the Conservatives about how much it will borrow, the Tories deficit reduction plans are “predicated on substantial and almost entirely unspecified spending cuts and tax increases”. Cue claims and counter claims of spending black holes thundering back and forth between the main parties.

None of the options look particularly appetising for British business and range from 1970s left-wing statism or ludicrous public spending cuts and a Brexit vote. But the reality is that the tax and pledges as they currently stand will inevitably change as the horse trading begins in earnest after 8 May.

Richard Crump is the deputy editor of Accountancy Age

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