Labour’s great banking crash and recession has tested political debate to destruction. Politicians, parties and most in the media are happiest talking about a few billion of spending. To most people a billion is a lot of money, without having any precise feel as to how much. It is a lot of money, but it is also just fifteen pounds each for every man, woman and child in the country. It is not a significant sum when discussing the UK economy. It is a small rounding error in the national accounts.
In this election the biggest annual sum argued over has been the £8 billion extra for the NHS. It hasn’t been much of an argument anyway, as Lib Dems and Conservatives say they will pay it, and Labour in office would end up paying it. The largest individual sum is the misleading £100 billion for Trident which is some kind of lifetime cost. On a similar time frame the NHS would be say £3000 billion. The actual cost of four new submarines would be around one quarter of that, spread over a number of years of building.
Yet as I have set out we are talking in theory of annual public spending of £737 billion , rising to £797 billion over the next Parliament on Conservative plans. There is little discussion of whether these are the right totals, and whether we get value for all that.
More importantly, the UK Parliament proved incapable of having good debates about the far more important large numbers which determined our economic crash in the 2005-10 Parliament or the progress to recover from it in the last Parliament. The £375 billion of QE was worth more debate and examination than it got. The massive £800 billion of assets and liabilities removed from the balance sheet of the state’s own bank,RBS, was crucial to our economic progress.It was only when there was a change in policy towards RBS in 2013 that the economy started to improve more quickly. It would be good if in the last days of this election campaign there could be some discussion of the big numbers that have a real impact, as well as debate over the nice to have smaller sums that are important to particular programmes but do not have much impact on the economy as a whole.