Has the Tory leadership election degenerated into a contest about who can lie the most blatantly and get away with it?
If their tax-and-spend pledges are any yardstick, it has.
Jeremy Hunt wants to spend £20 billion from Brexit “war chest” that will only exist if the UK manages an exit deal with the EU – and that would only be available for a year. That’s not enough for permanent changes.
And Boris Johnson promised public sector pay rises that were coming anyway as the years-long Tory-imposed pay freeze finally comes to an end.
According to Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, both candidates were really saying that they are willing to borrow more money.
This means they are happy to continue racking up the highest national debt in the UK’s history – something for which the Conservatives used to blame Labour at every opportunity.
Labour, meanwhile, is having a great time mocking both candidates’ “reckless spending commitments”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party went to great lengths to disprove claims that its own spending plans were unfunded during the 2017 election campaign, when Theresa May proved unable to do the same.
Now it seems both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt are unable to do their maths.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have been accused of misleading the public with “extraordinary” tax-and-spending pledges, as leading economists and senior Tories unite in criticism.
The two Tory leadership candidates came under fire after Mr Hunt unveiled a no-deal Brexit spending splurge worth almost £20bn – while a Johnson ally promised big public sector pay rises if the favourite wins.
The spending race provoked alarm from Conservatives, including Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and the former leadership contender Rory Stewart, who warned that such promises would make it impossible to attack Jeremy Corbyn for his “unfunded” pledges.
The head of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) went further, saying the two candidates were misleading voters in claiming they could dip into a £27bn “war chest”.
Paul Johnson pointed out it was a figure for one year only, so could not be used for permanent tax-and-spending changes – and it would not be available at all if the UK crashes out of the EU.
“There have been some extraordinary pledges – they add up into the tens of billions of pounds,” the IFS director said.
“They claim, somehow, that these will be paid for from this so-called Brexit war chest. Well, they are not going to be.
“First, that is only available in the event of no deal not happening. And, in any case, what they are just saying is they are willing to borrow more.”
Mr Hunt, as he set a new deadline of 30 September for a no deal becoming inevitable, pledged £6bn to compensate some industries from tariffs – claiming £1 trillion had been spent to bail out the banks.
But Mr Johnson said: “It is simply not true that, in any real sense, we spent £1 trillion bailing out the banks in the same way that he’s referring to potentially finding £6bn for the farmers and fishermen.”
And, on public-sector pay, he pointed out the freeze was over anyway – arguing the cash now being spent would be in jeopardy from a no-deal Brexit because “the economy will grow less quickly”.
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