Theresa May’s dire performances at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) continued today when she resorted to a demonstrable lie to try to score a cheap point against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn had May on the ropes with questions about cuts to policing. May stammered in response, telling the House that the Tories had given “£460 million, er £460 more pounds to the police”, before trying to make a point by waving a book edited by John McDonnell and ‘quoting’ a prominent economist ‘saying’ that Labour’s 2017 manifesto “numbers don’t add up”. She even waved it and pointed to a marked page when Corbyn and McDonnell’s faces must have shown they didn’t believe her:
Cue jeers and cries of ‘ah’ from the Tory benches – and what might be called ‘exotic sprisms’ from the Tory media.
But Corbyn and McDonnell’s scepticism was absolutely right – because she had made it up. Or ‘lied’, as the economist in question described it when responding on Twitter:
Wren’s full words that May misquoted were as follows:
Nevertheless the Labour manifesto was strongly criticised, based on IFS analysis which said that their calculations did not add up.* The political impact of this criticism was completely blunted, however, by the fact that the Conservative manifesto was completely uncosted! But even though the ‘not adding up’ criticism was blunted, it still reflected what I have called mediamacro: a focus on the role of fiscal policy in terms of the impact on the deficit, even though this would have been (initially at least) completely inappropriate because interest rates are at their lower bound.
Nevertheless the Labour manifesto was strongly criticised, based on IFS analysis which said that their calculations did not add up. The political impact of this criticism was completely blunted, however, by the fact that the Conservative manifesto was completely uncosted! But even though the ‘not adding up’ criticism was blunted, it still reflected what I have called mediamacro: a focus on the role of fiscal policy in terms of the impact on the deficit, even though this would have been (initially at least) completely inappropriate because interest rates are at their lower bound.
Let us suppose the IFS was correct, and the tax measures outlined by Labour were insufficient to match their proposed spending increases. There were two possibilities. First, and the most likely given the Brexit slowdown, interest rates would have remained at their lower bound. In that case the FCR would have said that the resulting fiscal stimulus was entirely appropriate and welcome.
The fact that the numbers ‘did not add up’ would have been a welcome feature of Labour’s manifesto, because it would add to the fiscal stimulus. Second, if despite everything the economy suddenly recovered strongly, the deficit would fall as a result and Labour may well have been able to fund all the spending increases and still stay within the FCR. As a result, the fact that the numbers might not have added up was largely irrelevant, and yet it was a central theme for mediamacro.
Now there is no reasonable interpretation of the facts by which Theresa May ‘accidentally’ thought Wren-Lewis said ‘the numbers don’t add up’. It’s perfectly clear on even a cursory reading that he is quoting the IFS – and saying that even if they were right, they’d be wrong – in a beneficial way.
And May’s wave of the book, with a reference to marking the page, merely underlines her dishonesty.
The right-wing media have backpedalled, amending their articles to include – in the subtlest possible way, of course – the fact that May has been criticised for misquoting the economist.
But, astonishingly, the Tory Twitter account is still digging and trying to pretend it wasn’t a lie:
May should be forced by the speaker next week to publicly apologise for lying to the House – and any media that propagate the lie should be censured.
Seems the only way May can get an economist to agree with the Tories’ thoroughly-discredited austerity mindset is to misquote or invent.
But Corbyn’s unflustered retort that only one party fully costed its manifesto last year – and it wasn’t hers – was perfectly pitched and showed the Labour leader’s clear superiority in facts and performance over his opposite number.
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