In the film Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding Jr. famously demands of his Agent Maguire (Tom Cruise) that he “show me the money”. The message (in context) is simple – no amount of smooth talking from his Agent is good enough – Gooding’s character wants to see the actual money. This is a good lesson to apply to the latest “debate” (I use the word loosely) over the future of public spending.
A simple solution is, based on ‘show us the money’, is we should demand of our ‘Agents’ that all three main parties (and the rest if they want to) should publish well BEFORE the General Election their four-year spending plans from 2010-11 to 2013-14, i.e. the probable length of the next Parliament.
In practice, that would mean their spending Plans for 2011-12 to 2013-14, because assuming the Election doesn’t take place until May we will already be well into the 2010-11 fiscal year and there won’t be a lot the new Government can do until the next year anyway. But the exact period doesn’t matter too much – what we need is some firm indication of where each of the Parties is going on public spending over a reasonable 3-4 year period. Anything less and we will be voting in a void, filled with meaningless half-truths and spin.
LABOUR has given an indication in their last Budget of how much in total they are going to spend but only by implication and with no detail. They have said nothing about the next Spending Review, which ought to cover the last 3 of these years.
CONSERVATIVES are indicating privately they are going to issue a 3-year Spending Review (covering 2011-12 to 2013-14) if they get elected next year. They have made vague noises about getting the public debt down fast. But again, we have no idea what that means in practice for public spending.
LIB DEMS have not indicated either if they would continue with multi-year Spending Plans and have only spelt out individual bits and pieces of spending policies.
Draft Spending Plans is what we ought to get from each Party – but don’t hold your breath. At the current rate we will enter the General Election and get to vote without a clear statement from any of them of what they actually intend to do with the public purse should they win. They are all too afraid of the fall-out from being too honest, especially if their rivals aren’t!
Tax plans would be nice too, and public borrowing plans – but for now just tell us what you would spend, on what, in broad terms, during the next Parliament. Then we’d know what we were voting for.