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British electorate is in for a shock on spending cuts, says think tank
With a massive budget deficit and the only post-election certainty a round of savage spending cuts, none of the main parties have been explicit enough about where the axe will fall, according to a leading British fiscal research group.
Britain goes to the polls on Thursday under the dark shadow of a record budget deficit, projected to be £180 billion (208 billion euros) by the end of 2010.
As the country hobbles out of recession, whoever is at the helm next week will have to impose savage – and deeply unpopular – spending cuts.
But none of the parties has fully outlined exactly where the axe should fall and what the consequences are likely to be. According to Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank, the “least worst” offender is the Liberal Democrat party, which has enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent weeks.
Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s vote, said Emmerson, “the electorate is in for a shock.”
“We know what the parties propose about taxation, but there is not nearly enough information about the extent of spending cuts,” he told FRANCE 24. “People seem to think the cuts will be all about more efficiency and less waste, but the sums involved are far in excess of what efficiency measures alone could ever achieve.”
He added: “Whoever is in government is going to have to make people less well off and make public services less good. The cuts will be obvious and they will be painful. The electorate is not prepared – there is no recognition of quite how difficult it’s going to be.”
The ruling Labour Party’s manifesto says it will take “tough decisions” on public spending, promising to “more than halve the deficit by 2014 through economic growth, fair taxes and cuts to lower-priority spending”.
FRANCE 24 contacted the Labour Party’s campaign office to ask exactly what those “lower-priority” spending cuts would be, pointing out that the manifesto commitments were particularly vague.
“Well, quite,” said a Labour press office spokesman. No further precisions were forthcoming.
The Conservatives (in the lead in the polls) have promised immediate cuts in public spending of £6 billion in 2010, aimed at eliminating most of British structural debt within five years.
These cuts would be in all areas except health and foreign aid. But again, there is little to suggest where the cuts will actually fall.
The Liberal Democrats are also promising cuts to “lower-priority” spending (£15 billion) while protecting front-line services.
David Cameron (Conservative), Gordon Brown (Labour) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) are each desperate to convince the electorate they are the right people to dig the country out if its financial black hole.
But the realities of the job ahead are grim: none of them wants to strike such a negative note before Thursday’s vote.
On Monday, Warren Buffett, one of the best-known investors in the world, told the Guardian newspaper that whoever ended up in the prime minister’s seat would be forced to make unpopular decisions.
"I would not necessarily want the problem of tackling that debt,” he said. “Any solution is going to be very unpopular politically."