I’ve just been on the BBC1 Breakfast sofa doing the “Brown lies on spending” debate with Nick Watt of The Guardian. That they invited us on a mass audience programme to discuss statistical fibs is an indication of how badly all this is backfiring on Gordon Brown. This debate may have started in the blogosphere but it is spreading to the mainstream. Brown himself upped the ante during that BBC package yesterday, telling Nick Robinson “I always tell the truth,” and (to me) sounding uncannily like Bill Clinton saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. People who tell the truth never say “I tell the truth”. They don’t have to. It’s never in question.
So I kicked off saying Brown’s claim to always tell the truth was, in fact, a lie. Not a word anyone uses lightly, but he says spending will rise after the general election when in fact it will fall. He is knowingly telling an untruth. It’s a binary distinction. It’s now clear that this is a calamitous strategic miscalculation on his part. James told us a fortnight ago that it was a decision taken against Mandelson’s advice: The Prince knows who easy it is for Cameron to make this into a “Tory truth v Labour lies” debate – and a debate uncomplicated enough to make it on to the breakfast TV sofa.
There wasn’t much Nick and I disagreed about on this topic. You literally can’t find a journalist to say that Brown isn’t lying when he says spending will rise – and Nick has done excellent work teasing the “cuts” line out of Liam Byrne and blogging the results. The “zero percent rise” line was brought up: another incongruous phrase which makes it sound like someone Scottish is telling fibs.
I really do think Brown will now have to admit defeat on this. His Cabinet refuse to repeat his lie, and his back-peddling (sic) yesterday – splitting out so-called capital spending from ‘investment’ spending - is the start of his giving up the “Labour investment v Tory cuts” line altogether. I reckon this will have two more weeks, max, to run – but I’d be happy to be proved wrong. Brown has been well and truly rumbled. “My father told me: always be honest,” he told us at his press conference last month. I suspect that, now, he’ll wish that he’d listened.