Why Labour supporters always lie?
Sceptical Meerkat

You accuse me of lying, and then fail to identify any point at which I’ve lied, which suggests to me that you’re arguing in bad faith and trying to pull a fast one. If there’s an actual error in what I’ve written, I’ll happily correct it, as I had no intention to lie. If, however, you’re trying to suggest that me interpreting the significance of some figures differently from you (or putting an average on a graph) is the same as lying, I think you might want to reconsider your definition of ‘lie’.

You’re correct that the Conservatives brought in a new budget that reduced spending in 2010, and that this brought down borrowing in the short-term. However, it also brought down growth, which is the more conventional means of reducing debt (%GDP) and deficit (%GDP).

So while its policies were reducing the deficit in the short term compared to doing nothing, they may well have dragged it out at a higher rate for longer, especially compared to alternative strategies that involve more than simply doing nothing and hoping for the best. (Trying to ascertain the difference beyond 2010 is much more difficult, I think—you seem to be suggesting that Labour would have kept running a higher deficit, but we really don’t know how the economy or economic policy would have developed under them beyond 2010).

We can’t know what would have happened if Labour had been in office, because the economy is complex and changing one aspect of it would have lots of knock-on effects (economists are generally overly confident in their ability to accurately model the real world). However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Labour would still have ended up reducing the debt burden and deficit through growth and other strategies that have less of a negative impact on the poorest in society.

I agree that an average is a very blunt way of interpreting the data. However, it’s worth noting (as I already pointed out) that in many cases, extending the data further back (to the 80s, 70s, or even 50s) produces figures that still lean in Labour’s favour.

Using trend lines can similarly be misleading, since quite a few of the graphs in this series show a change in one direction, then a reversal. Moving averages might be the best option, if we had enough data, but by the time you’ve averaged over a few years within a given period of government, you’ve got barely any graph left to draw.

I’ve never denied that the deficit has been decreasing under the Conservatives, but it’s still there after 7 years. It begins to be a bit ridiculous for the Conservatives to keep blaming Labour when they’ve actually had more than one full Parliament to sort things out now.

The average business cycle is generally assumed to last about 5/6 years, so by this point we should have been well out of the after-effects of the recession and into a boom. We might even be facing another recession before too long, and the supposedly brilliant strategy of austerity is now not going to deliver a surplus before 2020 (based on predictions that have a record of being overly optimistic anyway).

In any case, let’s compare Labour’s record: they also presided over turning a deficit into a rising surplus until 2001, when what is widely regarded by economists as a mini-slump hit (the UK avoided recession technically speaking, but was clearly still affected by what were largely global conditions). A couple of years later they had returned to reducing the deficit every year, until the next recession hit. So if having a record of reducing deficits is so great, then why do Labour never get any credit?

The reality is that deficits are a fact of life in most economies under modern conditions. We need to obsess less over spending figures and focus more on wealth growth and distribution: as I’ve pointed out later on, Labour have a pretty good record on wages, poverty, etc.

You say that without spending cuts debt would be much higher, but you’re failing to account for the effects of economic growth, income distribution, etc. What I’m saying here is really not that extreme: even the OBR (which was set up by the Conservatives) and the IMF have said that austerity hampered growth, increased inequality, etc. Several economics Nobel prize winners have argued that austerity made things worse rather than better—are you going to tell me they don’t understand maths too?

Even if the debt were higher right now, that might be a price worth paying in the long-run if it meant a more equal society with lower poverty, higher wages, a sustainable long-term innovation and growth strategy, a better current account balance, etc.

The overriding point here is that the ‘common sense’ view of Labour as economically incompetent by contrast to the Conservatives is really based on a politically-motivated narrative. When it comes to a growing economy performing well for the average person in society, and the poorest in society, Labour have a much better record, and while they do borrow to do so, that’s a normal part of running a government—their borrowing is not out of control and ruinous, as we are often told. None of that, as far as I can see, is a lie.