The public spending debate
If this is a sign of things to come in the debate on public spending then we're in for a pretty miserable year.
There have been three key players in the spat over spending that's erupted in the last 24 hours: the NHS Confederation, the Conservative's shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, and the prime minister. Each, to put it politely, has been highly judicious in their use of facts.
First came the NHS Confederation, with a report claiming that the NHS would face a "real terms cut in spending of £8-10bn" in the three years from 2011.
The figures are based on the IFS's judgment that the spending plans for 2011-14 that the chancellor announced in this year's budget probably meant an average cut of 2.3% a year in real terms for most departments, given the likely rise in spending in debt interest and social security that the government couldn't do much about it.
On that basis, the report said the NHS should plan for a 2.5-3% real terms cut in spending for the three years from 2011. It said that would add up to a real terms cut of £8-10bn, which is perfectly true.
You can see why the NHS Confederation would want to scare both its members and the voters with that prospect: its members, to instil reasonable behaviour in future spending negotiations and the like; and the voters, to ensure that there is maximum pressure on politicians to scure a better outcome for the NHS.
And yet, everyone knows that the NHS is not like other departments. Yes, things will be a lot tougher after 2011, and the NHS needs to prepare for that along with everyone else. But it will get a much better deal than the rest.
If you wanted confirmation of that fact, you needed only hear Andrew Lansley on the Today programme this morning - in what then became stage two in this latest spat.
If elected, Mr Lansley said the Conservatives would raise spending on health, schools and international aid (DFID) after 2011, but that would mean "a 10% reduction in the departmental expenditure limits for other departments" in the three years from 2011.
He added: "That's a very tough requirement indeed." But in fact, it's going to be even tougher than that.
According to the IFS, if you protect the NHS and DFID by simply freezing their budget in real terms, that implies a real cut, on average of about 10% over three years for every other department - including education. If you protect education as well, the average cut for everything else is even worse.
The Conservatives have since admitted that Mr Lansley misspoke. After 2011, the Conservatives have so far only committed to protect health and development from real cuts in spending.
But at least the opposition are talking in real terms. And they are admitting there will be cuts. The same cannot be said of the prime minister - who gave us stage three of the row in Prime Minister's Questions.
Predictably, he claimed the Conservatives - in the person of Andrew Lansley - had revealed plans for sweeping cuts in "vital services" after 2011. In contrast, he said, spending under Labour would rise in each of the next five years, then reeled off a list of big - and rising - numbers to back him up.
But there's a slight problem, as Robert Chote, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has pointed out. The numbers he used were the nominal totals for Total Managed Expenditure over the next five years. They always go up. or nearly always. In fact, the last time they fell was in 1947.
By that measure, Margaret Thatcher never cut spending. Nor did the IMF. In fact, spending in nominal terms hasn't fallen since Clement Attlee was prime minister.
It all makes for a jolly knockabout in Parliament. But I pity the poor voter who has to decide what any of it really means for them or their own public services in the difficult years for the budget that lie ahead.
UPDATE, 17:10: Just to clarify something that was implicit in this post, but not really spelt out. The nominal figures that the prime minister read out to the Commons today were actually new - we hadn't seen the figures for total managed expenditure from 2011-14, though we knew more or less what they were on the basis of Alistair Darling's budget numbers.
Given the Treasury's own forecasts for inflation and the IFS's forecasts for spending on social security and debt interest over the period, these new figures confirm that if you freeze the NHS and DFID budgets in real terms from 2011-2013, other spending will see a 10% cut in real terms.
That's what Andrew Lansley should have said to the Today programme this morning, had he not tripped up on the question of spending for education and whether it was protected.
The bottom line is that the government's own numbers imply a 10% real cut in spending on other departments between 2011 and 2013, if the NHS and DFID are protected.