Britain’s national debt is rising faster than any of the basket-case Eurozone countries that George Osborne is so fond of disparaging but here’s the thing: only 16pc of voters realise that debt is going up. Why? Are they all thick? Or could it be that our political class is systematically misleading them? I’m inclined towards the latter. The odd debt vs deficit slip is forgivable. But ministers do seem to trying to exaggerate – even lie about – what they are doing to the national debt. And I’m afraid that Nick Clegg is my Exhibit A.
The Deputy Prime Minister was recently caught out telling Essex factory workers that his government would “wipe the slate clean” of debt – in fact, the coalition is upping debt by a staggering £465 billion over five years, more than the £319 billlion that Labour borrowed over five years. Even the Guardian picked up on Clegg’s unforgivably misleading ‘clean slate’ analogy. But it concluded that Clegg was guilty of a “sloppy mistake” rather than a lie. Sure, we all make slips. But on Five Live yesterday afternoon, Clegg repeated this false claim:
Here’s the question Clegg would have us ask: “is it the right thing to do to try and wipe the slate clean for future generations?” Is it right to rid the taxpayers of the “ball and chain around our ankles? Yes. But is that what Clegg’s government is doing? The below graph shows the amount of debt that the government is foisting upon the public.
So Clegg’s government inherits national debt of £803bn and takes it to £1,480bn. By what stretch of the English language is this wiping the slate clean? to claim otherwise is not an exaggeration, but the opposite of the truth. Given the fuss caused by his last slate analogy, I’m not sure it can written off as another “sloppy mistake”. The word ‘lie’ is rarely used in politics and if CoffeeHousers can think of another, I’m all ears. Clegg is telling voters that he is “wiping the slate clean” when he the slate will end up with more chalk on it than any in our recorded history.
I regard Clegg as an honest and decent man – in general. So why does he tell such untruths? My theory is that Clegg has been told that everyone bends the truth when it comes to debt – bankers, politicians, journalists, everyone – and that it’s okay if truth is sacrificed in the simplification process. This is why George Osborne misleadingly compares the deficit to an overdraft. So politicians think okay to use an entirely misleading analogy about slates and chalk and dusters because no interviewer will pick you up on it. In most broadcast interviews, this is so. And I hate to say it, but Clegg has a good teacher. Here is David Cameron in ITV Daybreak only last month, claiming – outrageously – that his government’s “vital mission” is to “get the debt down”.
And here is Osborne at last year’s Tory conference:-
No wonder the taxpaying public don’t know that debt is rising. They are being systematically misled. Some ministers may genuinely confuse ‘debt’ and ‘deficit’ but Cameron and Clegg will know the situation precisely. And yet they choose to use such words and analogies. Yes, the coalition inherited an appalling situation. But lying about this situation will help no one.
Hat tip: Alistair Reid, who alerted me to Clegg’s porkie on Twitter. The only way politicians will stop misleading the public on debt is if they are taken to task for it. And if this isn’t done by an interviewer, it can be done afterwards on blogs and audioboo. I am working on a hall of shame, featuring audio and video of the the top ten porkies told about our soaring national debt. So if any CoffeeHousers hear any politician trying to mislead people, please do tweet it: I’m on @frasernelson