A lot of focus today will be on how Labour would cut the deficit (and perhaps how George Osborne actually plans to get it done rather than just talking about it, given the Item Club warning that deficit reduction will plateau). Ed Balls has been arguing this morning that Labour would ‘balance the books in a fairer way’ but he’s got to show this afternoon when he responds to the Autumn Statement that Labour really can persuade voters to trust the party again on the economy, especially now that he and Ed Miliband rank behind Farage on this matter.
But speaking of Farage, today is the first economic statement in the Commons where Ukip has had MPs sitting opposite the Chancellor. How will the insurgent party use its new parliamentary platform to scrutinise the Tories and to set out how Ukip would cut the deficit?
So far, if Ukip’s MPs do have a big plan for today, they’re not letting on beforehand. Douglas Carswell has just had a fight with Iain Martin on Twitter after the latter asked him what cuts he’d make other than to the international development budget. Carswell himself has spent many years writing very clearly about the need for a change in the way the Treasury operates and discipline on spending. And Mark Reckless said in his defection speech that he could only keep his promise to cut the deficit in Ukip.
When Nigel Farage held a generously long press briefing at Ukip’s party conference in September, he was asked whether he was preparing ‘big cuts in the next Parliament if you hold the balance of power’. Farage replied:
‘Well, we’ll be preparing cuts, obviously but I mean the other side of the equation is to produce some growth, you know, and we feel that given most of our economic… in terms of managing our economy, you know, when it comes to the legislative side of business, the British government has no bearing over that at all, whether you’re in financial services or a plumber, it’s pretty irrelevant when you have a Labour or Tory government now because the rules by which you have to operate, the costs that you have to incur were made somewhere else and our argument strongly is we can only deregulate the British economy, particularly the small companies, you know, give them some opt-outs on things if we’re free to do that and we’re not at the moment.’
(The bold type is mine, to show that he emphasised the difference between big cuts and cuts). That sounds as though Farage doesn’t really want to talk about big cuts, either.
It might be that Ukip strategists don’t think that being straight with voters about quite how big the cuts need to be is a good thing. But that would merely put them in with all the main parties who will try their best between now and the election to elide the really ‘difficult decisions’ that they’ll need to make to plug the gap in the public finances. Perhaps they’ve decided that there’s no need to go any further than any other politician in talking about how to get the deficit down.