I wrote last night about the rubbish and outright lies told by Economy Secretary Sajid Javid in yesterday’s Treasury Questions on the topic of youth unemployment, as he skewed and misrepresented statistics and even lied about youth unemployment being down under the Tory-led coalition compared to the preceding Labour government.
There’s one other passage in the questions that is so blatant that I just couldn’t resist giving it its own article – Tory minister Greg Clark’s (non-)answers on the national deficit. Again, he failed to actually answer a question, and in his playground-level non-sequitur statements on the national deficit he not only misrepresented the facts but also went so far as to tell an outright untruth.
Let’s take a look.
Greg Clark: “I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman has the temerity to talk about debt when the legacy of the previous Government has made it clear that it has been the worst in the G7. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the changes in Government spending have directly added to gross domestic product, and have helped matters, rather than subtract from it.”
Mr Speaker: “Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that any Minister would be anything other than straight. He may want to deploy another word with reference to dealings with the House.”
Chris Leslie: “Absolutely. Perhaps it was inadvertent—I would not in any way wish to imply that the Minister was deliberately obfuscating on the facts. I wanted to pick up on a specific question. As I understand it, public sector borrowing in the first six-month period of the last financial year was £62.4 billion. It was £65.1 billion in the first six months of this financial year, so will he confirm that that is £2.6 billion higher, that borrowing has risen, and that the deficit has gone up?”
Greg Clark: “No, the numbers vary from month to month. The hon. Gentleman needs to wait until the end of the financial year. January is the key month for these things, as he knows, but if he is interested in getting matters straight on the facts, will he clarify the shadow Chancellor’s suggestion that there was no structural deficit before the recession, because according to the IMF not only was there a structural deficit but it was the worst in the G7?”
Let’s look at the slightly less obvious offence first. Note how, in the 2nd passage, Clark attempts to dodge the fact that in the first he’s stated false figures by saying that the UK deficit was lower in the first half of this fiscal year than it was under Labour, when in fact it was higher:
“No, the numbers vary month by month.”
But his statement was:
“Public sector net borrowing totalled £37 billion in the first six months of 2012-13“
Total figures for a 6-month period that is already past do not, cannot, “vary month by month”. Clarke referred to a peak in January, but in the fiscal year January falls in the 2nd half of the year and has exactly zero influence on the level of the figures in the first half.
I think Chris Leslie was absolutely right before he modified his statement under pressure from the Speaker:
Greg Clark was deliberately obfuscating the facts.
And now for the big one. The absolutely blatant, inescapable, outright lie:
Note Clark’s statement – repeated twice, just to make sure we got it – that the UK’s national deficit under Labour was “the worst in the G7“.
The G7 is a group of leading industrialised nations comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. According to Clark’s statement, the UK’s deficit under Labour ‘has been’ the worst in the whole group. Was it?
Here are some figures for the G7 nations that I took from a table compiled by the OECD (you can view the complete table here
), which show the national debt for each country as a percentage of its GDP from 2006-2010:
I’ve sorted the data according to the deficit in 2010, Labour’s last year in power. As you can see, the UK ranks 2nd – not worst. You might reasonably argue that Labour was only in power for part of that year, but if you want to make that argument, look at 2009, Labour’s last full year in power – again, we rank 2nd.
Normally, when the Tories want to make this kind of ‘worst in’ argument, they use cash terms – which don’t mean anything, as a millionaire with a debt of £10,000 doesn’t have a problem, while a person on benefits with a debt of £5,000 almost certainly does. But in this case, even if Clark was referring to cash terms and not as a percentage of GDP, he was still lying. The US economy dwarfs that of the UK, so that its higher percentage debt is vastly higher than that of the UK. Whichever way you cut it, Clark gave false information to the House – and if he wasn’t lying, he’s grossly incompetent. Either way he should resign.
And even if he’d made a correct statement that the UK’s deficit was the 2nd-highest in the G7 under Labour, it would have been disingenuous. Here’s the same information, but this time sorted by the level of debt before the financial crisis began:
The UK’s debt was still 2nd-highest in 2006, but look at the level – 2.7%, just barely higher than the US and France, and comparable with all the other countries below us. Then the financial crisis hit. As the site from which I took the data says:
“The 2007-2009 financial crisis led to a dramatic increase in the public deficits of many advanced economies, with many of them experiencing their highest levels of debt since World War II. This was in large part due to the huge stimulus programs in countries around the world, in addition to government bailouts, recapitalizations and takeovers of banks and other financial institutions.”
As one of the world’s most important financial centres, the UK’s cost to shore up its banking system was far bigger relative to its economy than almost any other country. Not only that, but David Cameron approved the Labour government’s bailout measures
that pushed our deficit to such heights. Every
G7 nation’s debt rocketed, not only because of the bailouts but because the economic crisis reduced tax receipts and shrank GDP, pushing up debt by default.
In percentage terms, the 2009 deficits of Japan (544%) and the US (529%) and Canada rose as a consequence of the crash by far more than the UK’s 404%, showing that Labour’s handling of the crisis was much better. Canada swung from a budget surplus of 1.6% to a deficit of 5.6%, meaning that you can’t show the deficit increase in percentage terms, as they didn’t have one, but it was a much more drastic swing than in the UK under Labour.
So, Clark not only gave false information to the house, but even if he hadn’t, he’d still have been misleading. Yet again, we see an unmistakable fact:
You just can’t trust a Tory.