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Only growth and reform can save Britain (and the Conservatives)

Accusing Labour of failing to fix the roof while the sun was shining doesn't begin to get to the scale of what Brown has done to Britain. On CentreRight on Friday, Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange reminded us of the scale of Britain's fiscal challenge. Here are just four of the chilling facts he presented:

  1. If current trends in borrowing continue for the rest of the financial year, Britain will be borrowing £9,500 every second.
  2. £217bn of borrowing (what the Institute of Fiscal Studies fears may be this year's level of borrowing) equals 15% of GDP.
  3. 9p in every pound of tax will soon be spent serving (NOT repaying) our debts. That's £50bn - more than we spend on schools.
  4. Sweden turned round a similar deficit in seven years with a balance of spending cuts and tax rises. If we followed the Swedish path we'd need the equivalent of an eye-watering 20p increase in income tax to produce a budget surplus of 4% of national income.

It really is crazily irresponsible in this environment for politicians like Ed Balls to be campaigning for even more spending. The man really is unfit for office.

As I've noted elsewhere, I've been in the USA for a gathering of centre right politicians and think tanks. They were absolutely united in their belief that they were glad they didn't have Britain's fiscal problems. One member of Stephen Harper's government said that he wasn't sure that Britain could survive as a major power without a dramatic change of course. He also warned against one view within Team Cameron that Canada's approach to deficit reduction was a model; 'You do know a lot of our deficit was cured by transferring spending from Ottawa to the provinces, don't you?' I didn't.

Michael Portillo used an interview this weekend to say that spending cuts were too tricky. He clearly doesn't get the gravity of Britain's situation. On Thursday Benedict Brogan did get the measure of things:

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that nothing short of a national restoration project is needed, one that would rethink all our assumptions about how Britain works and our place in the world. The questions multiply by the day: If the City is no longer to be the engine of our growth, what replaces it? If the rise of new economic powers mean our capacity as a major player in defence and diplomacy is diminished, where do we stand? In a globalised world, why should we stay in the European Union? If individuals are empowered by the internet and the availability of information, how far back can the boundaries of the state be pushed? Can a broken Parliament be repaired in a 19th-century palace?"

BARRIE: GROWTH On Marr this morning David Cameron indicated that an emergency budget would be held within fifty days of the Conservative Party being elected (should, I feel it necessary to add for Tom Harris MP's benefit, we get elected). It will be growth-orientated, Cameron said. It needs to be. Simply dividing up the existing cake won't solve things*.

Britain is already over-taxed and large tax rises will make our economy uncompetitive. Radical simplification of corporation tax is likely to feature in George Osborne's first budget but what other measures do we need?  Answering that question must be the focus of the last few months we have before polling day.

Tim Montgomerie

* The Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention this week in arguing against economic growth really did make me temporarily embarrassed to be an Anglican. Let me quote Edward Heath (not something I often do) to Dr Williams: "The alternative to expansion is not, as some occasionally seem to suppose, an England of quiet market towns linked only by steam trains puffing slowly and peacefully through green meadows. The alternative is slums, dangerous roads, old factories, cramped schools, stunted lives.”

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