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It's the deficit, stupid

Nick Robinson | 12:40 UK time, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Who would have thought it? The Conservatives and the EU Commission arm-in-arm warning the nation that Gordon Brown's deficit reduction plan doesn't go far enough.

It is not, of course, quite that simple.

The boys (and girls) from Brussels do criticise ministers for not being ambitious enough - they want to see the deficit cut by more, and sooner. However, they do not echo the Tory call for the government to "make a start" now by cutting spending this year.

After a nervous wobble induced by their warnings of an age of austerity, the new mantra at Conservative HQ is "It's the deficit, stupid". The Tories are nostalgic for the lazy hazy days last summer when they could claim that Gordon Brown was "in denial" about the need for cuts, was "taking the public for fools" and David Cameron would taunt him for denying reality. They promise they will be "honest" with the public and will go further after the Budget in spelling out what cuts they'd make in financial year 2010-11.

Their task may not prove so easy. Last autumn the prime minister was finally persuaded to use the "C" word - cuts - and to back "a plan" to halve the deficit in four years through a combination of growth, tax and largely unspecified spending cuts (see my earlier post). It's clear that the Budget will re-state that plan, flesh out the promised "efficiency savings" announced in the pre-Budget report and suggest that going any further would imperil the recovery.

Ministers will claim that it is the Tories who are being dishonest since they promise things without saying how they'll pay for them - such as "free schools" or marriage tax breaks - and refuse to say how much further they'd cut the deficit. Note how Liam Byrne the chief secretary to the Treasury was quick to suggest that the EU and, by implication, the Conservatives were calling for a cut of £20bn more than the £38bn already announced by the government.

Meantime, Nick Clegg warns that the wrong sort of cuts could lead to Greek-style public disorder. He's promising to spell out £15bn of the right sort of cuts before the Budget - although he's unlikely to repeat the call for "savage" cuts he made last autumn.

So, all main parties are claiming virtue and honesty. All, though, have veered and wavered on this issue.

Labour once denied that a problem existed at all and pretended that it could avoid cuts. Now they insist - against the advice of the EU and many others - that they're doing enough.

The Tories once promised to match Labour's spending, then called for an "age of austerity" before insisting that there would be no "swingeing cuts". They've given more detail than Labour but have left the public in the dark about how far they would go and with what consequences.

The Lib Dems once promised net tax cuts, then "savage" spending cuts, then a mixture of tax rises and spending cuts before now ruling out overall tax rises.

Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick.

The honest truth about the deficit is that politicians are scared of the public who appear to be scared of reality.


Page 1 of 5

  • Comment number 1.

    The problem with the public, Nick, is that they have been scared by the reality for a while, only the politicians and the media have been slow on the uptake. We're well aware of the gravity of the situation, what annoys us most is seeing public money, raised through taxation, being wasted so spectacularly and so regularly.

  • Comment number 2.

    You know what Nicholas, the truest and most pertinent words of the entire piece here are in the last two lines.

  • Comment number 3.

    Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick.


    Deary me, how tragic it is that so many readers of The Mirror are so far removed from reality.

    Not really a massive shock though, is it.

    Regardless. It is not the perogative of politicians to lie to us and tell us what we want to hear. They must be honest with us, any deception should be exposed by the media, with the protagnists defenestrated and pilloried.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is this the same Brown who promised to get control of the deficit in 1997?

  • Comment number 5.

    "Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick."

    Perhaps the people polled have been listening to the politicians? A very foolish practice.

  • Comment number 6.

    Take the medicine now, it'll taste worse and take longer to swallow if we delay too long.

    If Brown is confident of victory then he should have called an election by now. If he thinks we'll throw him out, the least he could do is put the country first and allow us to do so.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's amazing how the party which would kiss any EU posterior at the drop of a hat is now happy to claim it's EU masters are talking through said posterior when it suits their plans to hide the truth of Britain's economic condition from the electorate. The fallacy that cuts now would damage the economy is garbage ; the cuts required would have no effect on either public services or the recovery, they would just mean a considerable reduction in the number of unnecessary government employees. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper paying them unemployment benefit than the inflated terms most of the non frontline staff are on.

  • Comment number 8.

    The sense of delusion is astonishing; it seems to permeate the entire country.

    Two weeks ago the inestimable Will Self sat on Question Time and several times harangued the politicians sitting beside him on the panel with the news that the IFS expected cuts in government budgets of between 14% and 24%. He went on to ask how any of them can argue as to how taxpayers' money should be spent as most of it will be swallowed up dealing with the debt.

    The big illusion is that on the surface the economy seems calm but underneath it is a swirling mass of dangerous ebbs, tides and swells. Possibly only the fact that we are in deep water and quite out to sea as a country which is stopping us from taking our full predicament on board. Quite simply: the money has run out.

    I reckon the level of spending cuts to balance the budget within the time frame the EU state would be greater than they were in the Thirties during the Great Depression.

    This level of devastation is hard to grasp. This is not about cutting out a bit of waste here, increasing a tax there and given time things will be all right: this is Desolation Row and The Wasteland wrapped up into one.

    The crazy thing about it all is that if anyone speaks up about it they are ignored. I am close to giving up on the subject as people prefer the illusion as they don't have the time for a recession. I regret to say they are going to get a slump instead.

    How do we deal with it? Sorry, I haven't a clue. Now that could be a good name for a radio programme.......

  • Comment number 9.

    No, Nick. The real truth is that this country is now full of people who are simply not worthy of a vote.
    They don't understand what impact this debt is having and will continue to have if it is left unchecked.

    It's a sorry state of affairs when politicians have to pander to these people and propose policies simply based upon the wishes of people who "just don't get it".

  • Comment number 10.

    "Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick.

    The honest truth about the deficit is that politicians are scared of the public who appear to be scared of reality."

    I still blame the politicians. The public may be stupid, but good politicians are supposed to be leaders, not simply slavish followers of the latest opinion poll.

    If they put opinion polls ahead of looking after the interests of the country, then they don't deserve any respect.

    It is true, however, is that the big downside of democracy is that we get the government we deserve.

  • Comment number 11.

    This record deficit needs to be reduced as a matter of urgency - and only someone who has no understanding of economics (such as Gordon Brown) could disagree.

    It's a national disgrace that the inept European Commission need to point this out. Let us not forget that the EU did not have its own accounts signed off for 14 years.

    Yes, people may be worried about how cuts will effect public services, but there is huge scope for reducing waste. Labour has always been a tax-and-waste party, and in many cases eliminating waste will actually lead to better services in the long run.

    In the run up to the elections, the idea of Labour 'investment' should be exposed for the sham it is. Spending needs to come down, very fast. The alternative is even more borrowing, rising interest rates, falling pound, inflation, unemployment - and higher taxes.

    The next government will need to get a grip.

  • Comment number 12.


    The honest truth about the deficit is that politicians are scared of the public who appear to be scared of reality.


    The truth is we are on an airliner that has been abused to the point where it is not air worthy.

    The order of the day is don't panic the passengers.

    There is a fight in the cockpit for control of who can save the most people in the certain crash landing.

    The choice is for the passenger to decide between

    The pilot who has destroyed the aircraft and is in denial of his responsibility for the state of the plane and that he is going to take everyone with him.


    Someone who has an outside chance of saving the majority of the passengers.

    BUT we are going to crash land that is for certain.

    One thing that will not help anyone is a hung Parliament.

    But the British people have knack of shooting themselves in the foot at times like these.

  • Comment number 13.

    ''MP's afraid of the public, the public are afraid of reality''

    on the basis that '' we have nothing to fear except fear itself''

    We are as a nation, completely and utterley *******.

    I dont see a genuine leader in sight at the moment to unlock this amongst the incumbent self styled and party serving lawyer political class.

  • Comment number 14.

    How bizarre! You reported on this last night Nick. It's yesterday's news.

    Today's news all about the Unite funding of the Labour Party but surprise surprise no blog about that.

  • Comment number 15.

    Whoever gets in at the next election it's the taxpayers who are going to foot the bill for bad management and greed. It may be a simplistic view but when bankers can lose billions and then get bailed out with taxpayers money which they then refuse to pay back despite giving themselves pretty huge bonuses - then there's something very wrong somewhere.
    It amazes me that the general public are prepared to sit back and accept that they and their children and grandchildren are going to have to put up with austerity measures in order to pay the debt incurred when it's not their fault. The fat cats who caused the problems, meanwhile, wallow in their riches and couldn't care less about the rest of us.
    Is there a party prepared to tackle this unfairness? I fear not.

  • Comment number 16.

    Shame there isnt some reality in all this. The truth is that the deficit has almost entirely been caused by the bail out of the banks (which, for what its worth i agreed with). However the Government didnt go far enough in looking to usher in a new financial order. Hence we have the farcical situation of banks paying out bonuses again but this time with the public's money! It's so crazy you couldn't make it up!

  • Comment number 17.

    The deficit cuts will hurt the poor still further and the unions and Labour are not saying that nor acknowledging recent news that Lehmans were able to stay off the radar partly due to lax legal rules, weak regulation and the lack of a desire to ask questions. Hence the Blair attitude to the FSA "why would they want to investigate perfectly legal banks" has been shown to be a total failure.

    The Tories have not really identified why under them we could not get the same fiasco in the future though they are at least more honest about the cuts and pain. For obvious reasons as Labour having broken the economy will try to ensure the Tories in government are identified with the pain of rebuilding the economy.

    Most respect Vince Cable and would like to see him as Chancellor but the first past the post system makes a breakthrough very difficult.

    So for the electorate should this election not be about "the economy stupid" but about fixing the system that creates all of the corruption and bad governance that allows a two party fiefdom and worse cliques within it to run the country as they wish.

    Hence Tony Blair and his small cabinet cabal plus his mate the attorney general lead us into a war on a false prospectus and Campbell is dismayed that the media misread his 45 minute dodgey dossier.

    Fix the electoral system and then the other problems will resolve themselves.

  • Comment number 18.

    Nick, Labour intend to cut the deficit through the use of £37 billion in spending cuts (which fortuitously, we are told, will not hit front line spending).

    What impact on growth would such a reduction of Government spending have, and how does that factor into the growth rate projections of future years that the Government have forecast, to help cut the deficit?

    Furthermore, if delaying the £37 billion of cuts will make little difference to future growth - how can they argue that starting to make much smaller cuts now will have a major impact on the economy today.

    If making a small start now will have disastrous effect now, as Labour claimed, then the £37 billion planned for the future must have a major influence on growth when it is made, and so calls into question the rather high projected growth rates used to help repay the rest of the deficit not met by cuts.

  • Comment number 19.

    Be careful Nick, I think you are falling for a "bit of black propaganda"
    Viz: a " Treasury Official" says to certain "selected journalists"
    "Of course we would like to reveal the full extent of the cuts required but the Public will just not believe us"
    Now whos fault is that ?
    Why do politicans (of any persuaion and or almost every Country) just not trust the electorate;
    Sadly that also seems to include "political scribblers"

  • Comment number 20.


    Interesting article, but where's the Ashford angle?

  • Comment number 21.

    What's so ridiculous in the public thinking we can at least start tackle the problem by dealing with inefficiency?

    Is it so naive to think that changing the way we pay for services and how they are tendered couldn't save us a bundle? Between PFIs and infamous failed service contracts, there has to be ways to shake some cash out of the beurocratic mill!

  • Comment number 22.

    It is ironic that the UK will have the worst economy according to goverment figures of all,including the basket cases of europe in 2014.

    It is however even worse that the idiots in the EU are telling us this and we must get to the 3% target by 2014,those morons cant even get auditors to sign off their accounts !!!!!!

    ALL poloticians from ALL parties need to get real and give the british public a big tablet NOW to ensure we dont become the poor relations in the corrupt EU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 23.


    A question that I would like you to address is which is the greater threat to the people of this country?

    A double dip recession? ( I think this is now inevitable)


    A Sovereign Debt crisis and a collapse in Stirling?

    For me the damage caused by the later is a far great threat to the people of this country than a double dip and should be avoided at ALL COSTS.

    Therefore we need to reassure the markets and put out a credible plan for debt reduction.

    As you say 6 month ago Brown would not even agree that cuts would be necessary.

    2 years ago Brown said we would not go into recession

    1.5 Years ago Brown said we were Best Place of any of the advance economies to weather the recession.

    He has been proved wrong on everything yet people are still fooled by him.

    If you can be fooled by Brown what does it say about the level of your understanding of the situation we are in?

    But you still have the vote.

    Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government in the world.

    Except for all the others.

    This is what proves him right.

    A fool has the same vote as those who understand the threat and what is required to fix it.

  • Comment number 24.

    Can someone - perhaps Nick Robinson, or David Cameron or Vice Cable - please explain why the ordinary British man and woman in the street should have to pick up the bills for irresponsible bankers and fraudsters and businesses who perceive they have no responsibilty to UK PLC or the British people when they move jobs out of the UK and cause massive negative changes in the £ through increasing imports of previously British products - like Kraft/Cadburys or Barclaycard?

  • Comment number 25.

    If the electorate is not prepared to face up to the reality that we will all end up worse off to some degree in sorting this mess out - we will surely get the government we deserve.

  • Comment number 26.

    I forgot to mention have those EU muppets managed to get hold of Mr Browns calculator ?????????????

  • Comment number 27.

    You know what Nick? None of us (the public) really expect to go unscathed in clearing the deficit. We all know it means more tax, we all know it means cuts to services. The honesty of the Tories is of a higher caliber than the honesty of Labour. Despite what any of them say, the polls are an important indicator of the public mood, and when the Tories were lesser expounders of platitudes, their poll ratings were higher. Why listen to Labour at all? This is a mess of their creation, why would we, for one solitary moment, think they have any idea how to get us out of this mess? They have no idea, they are clueless, a spent force, deceased, dead as a famous Norwegian Blue.

  • Comment number 28.

    The public are not scared of reality Nick, we don't accept the reality being put out by the politicians that cuts are necessary. We will not tolerate any cuts in services to fund the deficit caused by the banking crisis. Politicians are right to be scared because they know the anger that is out there. Not one of them, however, has the guts to do what will win them the next election - tax the banks.

  • Comment number 29.

    How has it managed to take you all morning to come out with a post on this subject, raised last night and discussed on your news network?

    Tory cuts are inevitable as part of a radical reform of the public sector.

    Sagamix can live in his la-la land of flat earth deficit deniers but the real world knows the truth; the public sector has had money thrown at it for thirteen years. Thirteen years of endless enquiries, reviews, agendas and billions wasted at our expenxse paid for by more and more taxation and now debt.

    One million extra public sector jobsworths doubling up on already existing 'services'. The worst record in the whole economy for absenteesim is in the public sector; this is what happens when you tell someone they are 'essential' every day of their life.

    The culture needs to change. We can't afford them. And we can't afford to pay for the healthcare and education of thousands of extra immigrants a year.

    So your transparent and seamless move from the Greek deficit to the Greek riots on the streets won't wash. Cutting spending always requires the 'difficult choices' that Gordon Brown loves to talk about but never makes. Get used to it; UNITE will have its work cut out for several years to come. It's officials will become as disenfranchised form the rest of the country as Scargill did.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 30.

    Bravo Nick just when I had given up on you.

    Brilliant blog and absolutely right it is so satisfying to watch some Politicians squirm.

    Now all you have to do is ask Brown what he was playing at spending all that money we did not have and borrowing during a time of record tax reciepts

    Good luck

  • Comment number 31.

    Is it worth pointing out again that a nominal tax on all City transactions would cover the entire public spending needs of the UK, and would make it possible to reduce the tax rate of the rest of the population to zero?

    This isn't exaggeration or hyperbole. Anyone can check the numbers for themselves. Daily ForEx turnover on its own is close a trillion or so.

    So - austerity? After funding the bankers who caused the problem in the first place?

    Why, exactly?

    It's not the public that's scared of 'reality' - it's the bankers who refuse to accept that their days of financial freebooting will be coming to an end soon.

    Considering the regularity with which they blow up the national economy and put others out of work, or encourage the luck survivors to take wage cuts to 'increase productivity', this can only be a good thing.

    Will they be willing to take a tiny, tiny profit cut to redeem themselves?

    Of course they won't. So instead of haranguing the rest of us to tighten our belts - which will put a rocky recovery on the skids - they should be treated like everyone else, and not given the choice to say no.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    £38bn of cuts - is that all.

    We need to cut public spending by about £120bn from current levels. But of course I forgot the politician definition of cuts:

    If this year I spend £600 bn and next year I spend £610 bn that is not an increase but a cut! Why because the politician spending plans were to spend £620 bn next year so rather than an increase of £10 bn it is in fact a cut of £10bn. And if the politician does not catch up the cut over the lifetime of the parliament by spending even more in the following years he will claim it is a £50bn cut (£10bn times 5 years of the parliament).

    So how much in real terms (ie terms that we the ordinary voters could understand) are the parties actually going to cut public spending by?

  • Comment number 34.


    this is where you are culpable and in my view have failed us.

    "3. At 1:20pm on 16 Mar 2010, greatHayemaker

    They must be honest with us, any deception should be exposed by the media, with the protagonists defenestrated and pilloried."

    The reason that I am critical is that in my view you and the rest of the media should be focusing on the facts not the personalities.

    You should start from the view that one of the parties has been in power for 13 years and has a case to answer.

    The other parties have not so only have to answer what they would do to fix the mess made by the incumbent.

    But what we get is you treating the main opposition party as though they have been in power as well for 13 years.

    I will though give you credit for the last 2 lines because you are not wholey responsible for the stupidity of the electorate and as you say they have their eyes closed and finger in their ears going LA LA LA while the oncoming train bares down on them.

  • Comment number 35.

    Who is going to believe anything that is said between now and the election. For any statement issued by any political party insert the phrase ["Please, Please vote me into Number 10"] before any promises. Before the election, everything and anything is possible. After the election the government (of which every colour) is going to have to face the harsh realities of life. This will not be pleasant for anyone.
    The fact is that the country is broke.
    Public spending will have to be cut.
    Their will be redundancies and closures.
    We know that.....everyone knows that.
    However many promises that the politicians make.....this will have to happen.
    Unless the U.K. wants to go through the 'Greece' senario, of course.

  • Comment number 36.

    I see sagamix hasn't answered my prior post that he is sponsored by UNITE...

    At least we know.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 37.

    My worry is that cuts will come, but the wrong things will be cut.

    The culture of political correctness and "non jobs" is now so entrenched in the public sector that I fear it will be preserved at the expense of productive front-line posts. Even if the Tories win, they will be cutting budgets, but they won't be making redundancy decisions at the level of individual posts. That will happen much lower down. Take the example of a hospital: faced with a budget cut, my fear is that a hospital chief exec would rather lose nurses before sh/e would cut the hospital's "investors in people coordinator" or some other PC claptrap.

    Senior people in the public sector have usually achieved their rank by a good grasp of PC culture and an ability to spout the right buzzwords and platitudes in reports and meetings. I just can't see them readily adapting to a focus on getting results for tax-payers with the least possible manpower.

    No doubt consultants will have to be hired to show them how to do it!!

  • Comment number 38.

    None of the major parties are being 100% truthful and honest with the public about the need for post-election spending cuts and tax rises - but who can blame them when the public gets scared of the inevitable effects? Ironically, because Gordon Brown screwed up the economy so spectacularly, Labour are now benefitting in the polls because people fear that the Tories are more likely to give out the necessary economic medicine (ie cutting spending/tax raising), and are more "relaxed" about the resulting higher unemployment.

  • Comment number 39.

    The sagamix UNITE connection would certainly explain his life time devotion to la Harman ... and her UNITE husband Jack Dromey.

    Precious little out of la Harman at the moment on her disasterous equal opportunities with equal outcomes for all (illogical) bill. Maybe even she has spotted the whole thing is minefield of contradictions and confusion. But somehow I doubt it; that would require a degree of intelligence from someone who has given us no reason to believe she has any.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 40.

    Jam today! Jam tomorrow! Honest, guv.

  • Comment number 41.

    Whoever has ultimate responsibility the room to manoeuvre is very limited and the effects on public services taken in the round are likely to be much the same. What will be interesting to watch is where the anger is directed when the reality of the cuts in services bites. Will it be in the direction of the Banks that helped create the mess and have since done so little to behave responsibly and take ownership of sorting their own mess out at their own cost, or will it be directed at the Government of the day? The Politicians have every reason to be fearful. Politicians are visible. We don't elect Bankers.

  • Comment number 42.

    23 comments before this are yet to be moderated, so I can't see much of a debate here. The first 5 just look like the usual anti-politics stuff you can hear in your local any night of the week.

    In the same spirit, here's my ha'penny worth. The European Commission's report relates to the economic stability rules that originate with the Maastricht Treaty. They're really geared to the management of eurozone economies, for whom these growth and stability measures are serious and binding. In emphasising the British problem (if that's what they're doing), the Commission is really being quite naughty. The impact of the British economic situation on the other member states is much less significant than that of the weaker eurozone states on the other eurozone economies.

    This looks like a deliberate attempt to distract attention from those eurozone economies that are currently struggling with having to meet the costs of and repay very large public debts, so that international markets will not sell them short - Greece obviously, but Spain, Italy and Portugal also. What I take from this is not that the Commission is worried about the UK but that it is really seriously worried about the possible failure of Greece to deliver and about the possible domino effects on other eurozone countries. Better a run on sterling than a run on the euro.

  • Comment number 43.

    "The honest truth about the deficit is that politicians are scared of the public who appear to be scared of reality."

    Nick, but what is the reality?

    What has the EU actually said? Labour want the deficit to be 5% of GDP in X years, but the EU want it to be 3%. I would ask who is in a better state to judge the fragility of the British economy. Some faceless bueraucrat in Brussels, or the British Government.

    There are going to be cuts (they are going on stealthly now), but any Government that does them to fast too quickly is risking a double dip. That is what frightens people about the Tories and that is why George Osborne has been described as dangerous.

    Note also the EU has not backed the Tory plans either.

  • Comment number 44.

    This article echoes something I have long thought. The need to remain popular damages an ability to govern, which I suppose is one of the necessary prices you pay for having a democracy! However, eventually there will have to be collective realisation that the current levels of deficit are unsustainable, and cuts will need to be made. And that this will result in people's pockets being hit one way or another. Now if only we trusted politicians enough to lead us through this epiphany....

  • Comment number 45.

    "A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick"

    Must get me some of those rose tinted spectacles that everyone seems to be wearing these days.

    Guess what folks? The light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming the other way....

  • Comment number 46.

    You seem to have missed the point entirely, Nick.

    What the EU Commission report says is that government plans over cutting the deficit are based on 'growth'. Without that 'growth', the treasury forecasts and hence the government plans are meaningless.

    So what happens if the economy doesn't 'grow' as much as the government spin?

  • Comment number 47.

    nick, cuts in goverment spending is a nightmare. I blame you as well as other journalist for not reporting a revolution going on in america which gives the voter detailed public spending online saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We need this sort of accountability allowing the voter to make choices from evidence.

  • Comment number 48.

  • Comment number 49.

    If you run up a huge credit card bill buying useless trinkets for your wife, of course she's going to be annoyed when you have to sell the trinkets to pay off the bill - but that doesn't mean you're not a complete chump for running up huge debts you can't pay in the first place.

  • Comment number 50.

    I always thought that there would have to be savage cuts and so do the politicians.
    Execpt they can't or won't say. To say they are lacking moral fibre is stating the
    obvious, they're too busy trying to salvage their expenses claims to be addressing
    more important matters. In my veiw there's only one thing that has to be ring-fenced
    and that is Afghanistan, everything else can and should be cut, especially education.
    Why? Just look at the number of nearly half empty schools. This isn't rocket science
    (which shouldn't be cut!). How many hospital wards, police stations etc will have to
    be looked at. Do local authorities really need chief executives? Now's the time to
    sort it all out. Regards, etc.

  • Comment number 51.

    As someone who worked in public sector, and saw the scale of waste first hand, I can say for certain that tens of billions could indeed be saved simply by efficiency savings and elimination of waste, so people aren't wrong in that belief.

    Additional tens of billions more could be saved by axing jobs that exist in places like local government but that are redundant and don't actually achieve anything useful, this would of course increase unemployment figures, but paying people who produce nothing useful unemployment, is still cheaper than paying them a full wage. This is another valid viewpoint some may have- that much can be saved here, without any actual effect on service.

    What wouldn't be a valid viewpoint though, is the idea that the entire deficit can be cut by these things, whilst these changes would take a massive chunk out of the deficit we would indeed need to cut some of Labour's less worthwhile social care programs, we'd need to cut Labour's database state plans and so forth, as well as perhaps cutting some of the less useful military projects.

    So whilst I agree with Nick, that it's wrong to believe we can do what is needed with absolutely no effects, I also disagree with any suggestion that we can't deal with the deficit without any pain. Dealing with the deficit could potentially be mostly painless, simply because there is so much public expenditure tied up in the useless or unnecessary.

    The biggest hurdle I suspect will be the unions, the likes of Unison (of which I was a member, and even went on strike with) have proven time and time again that they are not reasonable. They have good points sometimes but more often nowadays they take it too far, and just refuse to accept when they're wrong to defend something. Can they really justify defending the public sector worker on a £35,000 a year tax payer funded wage, doing a job that has no net benefit to society, and who gets 30 days annual leave a year, coupled with flexi time, and up to 15 flexi days off, and who also has around 2 months worth of sickness leave a year, even though they are not actually sick and it's all just abuse of the self-certification system and a lack of will by public sector bosses to challenge the unions? The answer is no, the likes of Unison can't defend that, it's indefensible, but the problem is, they'll still try, and burn thousands more out of the public purse in waste in the process.

  • Comment number 52.

    No 16

    You are in cloud cookoo land if you believe this is caused by bailing out the banks!!!!2009/2010 deficit is an estimated £200 billion,the banks have had max £12 billion of this.You have been listening to the politicians too much !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Typical chattering class liberal-elite BBC arrogance to suggest that the electorate are "scared of reality". The electorate are the ones paying for the incompetence and greed of politicians and bankers - they know only too well the reality of the current situation. And no smug, feather-bedded, overpaid BBC employee has the right to castigate them. Caledonian Comment

  • Comment number 54.

    What no one seems to have pointed out is that this 3% limit which the Eu seems keen to get us to adhere to, is really the requirement to join the euro. So, if you dont want to join the euro, make sure your budget deficit remains over 3%. Currently, the EU does not decide our levels of debt, or what level is right for our economy - unlike in eurozone countries. Its so surprising that the tories are so desperate for support that they latch onto this piece of nonsense from Brussels.

    However, that didnt stop Greece joining....

  • Comment number 55.

    The deficit was not caused by the Banking bail out, which incidentally I did not agree with. I would have Nationalised them.

    The cost of bailing out the Banks was circa £150billion

    The deficit is rapidly approaching a Trillion.

    Though we know what the Clunker wishes us to believe

  • Comment number 56.

    In the run up to the election I keep reading the tired old mantra that “most politicians are useless crooks and/or liars”, but nobody seems to spare a thought for the poor politician who has to deal with an electorate that seems somewhat inconsistent. Today’s voters want better services but do not want to pay more tax, want to be safe but do not want to pass security laws, complain that they are not being "listened to" when what they really mean is that they cannot have their own way, moan about their own problems without considering what is best for the common good, believe what they read in their choice of media without considering the counter-arguments, do not want the unqualified to receive state-benefits but refuse to accept the introduction of identity cards and can always spend tax money more wisely than the government while getting themselves into massive personal debt If I were a politician I'd want to "throw out" the electorate rather than vice-versa.

  • Comment number 57.

    It does seem ironic that the EU - whose auditors have refused to sign off the accounts for a decade - should tick off Brown about the state of the UK economy and its prospects for the future.

    On the other hand, many people told Brown that the so-called good years were an illusion based on a runaway credit bubble.

    What I find irritating is that Brown insists he built a "good position" for the UK.

    That despite wrecking private pensions, watching the manufacturing base shrink, grabbing massive tax-take, borrowing and spending wildly and encouraging PPP/PFI deals that simply defer tax-spend into the future. Oh and of course underequipping the armed forces while claiming to protect the nation and the world...

    Saga posts that it's inconsistent to blame Brown for the down turn without accepting his role in an upturn.

    I didn't notice any genuine upturn. Manufacturing shrunk. Financial services were poorly regulated. Credit-based growth leaves little of genuine value. Money shovelled into housing (which could have been controlled), to drive soaring house prices, being casually released to fund ephemeral consumer spend was about all we can say about the period 2001-2008.

    So where is the legacy?

    Essentially bundles of papers that represent the various initiatives, re-cycled thinking, QANGO creation, massively bad negotiations over public sector pay (think GPs) and silly, unnecessary and unfinished, IT projects.
    And in those bundles are the bills that you, your children and probably their children will be paying for Brown's (and Blair's) follies.

    But Brown says HE will "hang in there" for the sake of the COUNTRY?

    Good grief. The man did a good thing by introducing a 10p tax band. Then he ripped it away. So harming the lower paid people in the country.
    What a great social and moral compass.

  • Comment number 58.

    What will GB do without the unite monies to fund NL GE campaign I wonder??? That 7 day strike will cost them £2-3 million at least!!

    One does have to ask the question is that wh they NOW want it cancelled.........

  • Comment number 59.

    David Cameron is like Neil Kinnock - destined never to be prime minister. However well Kinnock was perceived to be doing during the 1987 general election campaign, the feeling persisted that his tremendous efforts would come to nothing due to Labour's unilaterlist defence policy. Frankly speaking, it terrified voters. Now Cameron finds himself in a similar burning boat, with his juvenile plans to slash public spending. Whatever the opinion polls say,the 7th of May will see Gordon and Peter still holding the reins of government in this country, with the Tory leader already buried in the setting concrete of time.

  • Comment number 60.

    The problem is that we have a generation of people who have spent the last 15 years "living on the never never" and as a result are completely detached from financial reality. People like having a Posh and Necks lifestyle on average wages and don't realize that the money is going to have to be paid back someday, they probably also think that the IMF is like a giant version of Ocean Finance "consolidate all your debts into 1 monthly payment."

    The truth is that if we don't get a grip on the deficit soon then we are in serious trouble. When Denis Healey had to go to the IMF in 1976 he was able to point to the North Sea Oil revenues that would soon be following into the Treasury, without them the IMF's medicine would have probably seen the end of the welfare state and the NHS as we have known them. If we have to go back to them we won't have the promise of a massive windfall of petrodollars and the cure will be much more severe.

  • Comment number 61.

    Having read the article, also the published comments, it is heart warming to see there is a section of the community that really does think and understand outside the page 3 arena! Is it really a dying breed or will the elections and incoming politicians surprise us with a new found reality and zeal to do what is right and needed. That youthfulness that could put the troubles of the world to rights at a stroke but requiring the wisdom to understand the complexities and the necessity for careful planning before taking action however bitter the remedy medicine tasted.

  • Comment number 62.

    "Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick."

    Polls like this one should always have follow up questions along the lines of:
    Do you know how large the deficit is?
    Do you understand what the deficit is?

    I'd assume that the positive response rate would be fairly low for both questions. And among people who believe everything is going to be fine, the number of positive responses could drop towards zero.

  • Comment number 63.

    Anyone who still feels that there is no scope for cuts in public services has obviouly not heard today's news.

    Our town halls have been playing musical chairs with out hard earned money.

    Paying off Chief Executives they don't agree with to the tune of £500000 pounds only to see them take up another job in another town hall for £250000 pounds a year.

    Just think how many of the low paid jobs will have to go to satisfy these indulgencies by elected town hall councillors. It's only taxpayers money so easy come easy go.

    The CE's are the tip of the iceberg. It happens throughour the public services. They are always guaranteed a payoff and another job somewhere else. And we thought it was only the banks. The lid is starting to come off now and what a can of worms we will see inside.

  • Comment number 64.

    Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick.

    The later is a confusion between effiecency and effectiveness. As someone who worked in both Public and Private sector effiecency is no straight shakes in the later and in some the profit factor means they are inefficient ( see public utilities such as Electric companies who simply raise or fail to lower prices en masse and make more money rather than making efficiency.

    More likely the savings are from effectiveness issues. like cutting back options on the NHS, stopping spending on ineffectual programmes and in some cases deciding what the public services can deliver for a lower price. for example we could cut MOD if we revert to a defence force rather than an invasion style force.

  • Comment number 65.

    Nick invites us to lok in the mirror .. and says what do you see?

    I see an Englishman who is generally happy, tries to give an honest answer to a question, is free-thinking and mostly liked by those who come across him - in other words, a terrible politician.

    Furthermore, I tend to agree with those other mirror-looking people who sense that there are gross inefficiencies in the Governmental system, simply because politicians love to spend 'other peoples money', with no meaningful personal sanctions if it all goes wrong - which it invariably does.

    Those of us living in England need a new breed of politician, not the tarnished goods currently on offer by the three mainstream parties.

  • Comment number 66.

    I don't think that one can take anything too seriously at the moment. I would rather get to 6 May and give everyone that long awaited chance to put their x on their ballot papers. Then we can return to the real world. Even Vince Cable is beginning to acknowledge that the government will have to carry the markets with them and the EU intervention is a reminder that we don't operate in a policy vacuum. As Gordon Brown has said - we're global! I am much more interested in taxation plans.

  • Comment number 67.

    Since there are now numerous messages waiting for mod approval I trust I am not duplicating but I thought this link was of interest - latest blog re Audit Commission Wales' thoughts on Public Sector sustainability


  • Comment number 68.

    If the public are not aware of the problems Britain has wouldn't it be up to the media to inform them, not just politicians.

    There is no wonder the public are not facing up to reality. The truth of how bad Britains position is has not hit them yet. The amount of public support the Labour Government has engaged in which is just adding to the massive Government debt has shielded a great many of the public from seeing the real truth. We are now entering the end game, however Labour will hope that the economy can just hang on until after the election. All Labour have done is hold off all the important decisions to keep votes. Artificially low interest rates, mortgage and business being propped up, the public sector still expanding and all sorts of Government interference to keep unemployment figures down. Give aways at budgets Britain cannot afford, promises of spending that can never be met. The list is endless all being funded on a sea of debt. When this public support is all withdrawn as the debt becomes far too great, the public is going to come to reality pretty quickly. Labour will hope it is on the Conservatives watch if they get into Government. However how can the Conservatives tell more of the truth than they have, when they are fighting a Government which spins and tells untruths about how bad Britains debt really is. Printing money, the drop in the value of sterling and inflation taking off should have been a wake up call, however it seems not to have been to either the public or the media which has fallen for Labour spin.

    Now whoever gets into Government is going to have a difficult ride. With a hostile public that has not been prepared, unions more powerful than ever, public sector workers living in denial of cuts, expect trouble to come.

  • Comment number 69.

    We need to get the economy sorted. We need to get people off benefits and into work. The more people in work and paying tax the better for all of us.

    And Sorry NuLab, but you can't overtax the rich. They'll just avoid it by leaving the country. Think about it: 100 millionaires paying tax at 40% is more revenue than 50 millionaires paying 50%.

  • Comment number 70.

    The message also needs to widened, so the public are aware that we were spending too much of GDP on Public Services BEFORE the financial crisis, and that we cannot afford to keep spending more than we are borrowing

    Those, disinclined to take an interest in politics, are completely disillusioned after the expenses row, and need to understand the difference between, deficit,debt etc

    Otherwise the view that Gordon Brown is peddling that those nasty posh Tories, just want to cut etc is being heard, with no explanation as to why we have to cut, due to Mr Prudence, the man who abolished boom and bust, the man who said we were best placed going into this recession, the man who saved the world etc not being able to count

    One thing he and Cameron have in common, is neither have been elected Prime Minister before

  • Comment number 71.

    There are two types of people, the ostriches who would rather bury their heads in the sand than face up to the frightening truth about debt, let alone make hard decisions to do something about it; and there are the people who cannot bear to be in debt, who would rather go without than live with the stress and burden of owing money, and have the discipline to get themselves out of trouble ASAP. I know who I would rather have in control at this time.

  • Comment number 72.

    isnt it odd that brown waits till the last minute for the election,if he is so great, if the labour policy on debt reduction is so wonderfull, why the delay?the truth is that brown knows he will be wiped out.Ive always voted labour , but not in a million years would I vote for brown. Any things better than the shower we have now.

  • Comment number 73.

    "50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick."

    It depends on what you define as "inefficiency". To most people it means things like not spending millions of pounds on something like "The Potato Council" and all the other completely unnecessary quangos, and also getting a much better deal on PFIs, doing both of those things would have no adverse impact on the economy (quite the reverse) or on front-line services. But to labour, "efficiency" just means using 5 sheets of paper instead of 10 when doing a print-out by using a smaller font on their printers.

    Labour are only looking for the small things when it comes to "efficiency", they don't look for a complete rethink of what's actually needed, and therein lies the problem; 13 years' worth of accumulated totally unnecessary spending which has been going up every year with nobody in labour ever asking "hang on a second, do we actually need this?" or "hang on, that's a really bad deal, can we get someone who's actually got some common sense to draw up this contract instead?"

    I cite the NHS IT system as a perfect example. The government have openly said that it was a total disaster, cost a fortune, isn't ready, and was never even needed in the first place. However, despite all that, they're still carrying on with it. It's that kind of attitude that's destroyed the economy, not the recession.

  • Comment number 74.

    "Before you rush to blame the politicians, take a look in the mirror. A poll out today suggests that 50% of people believe that the deficit can be dealt with without any impact on the public services. 75% say dealing with inefficiency will do the trick. "

    Just goes to show what a horlicks Labour have made of our education system, as well as of the economy. What I would say is that it is up to our politicians to enlighten these poor ignorant souls. But of course, for Labour that would mean having to admit what a mess they have made of things and for the opposition parties, it would mean having to frighten the voters with reality.

  • Comment number 75.

    #51, iwinter:

    "As someone who worked in public sector, and saw the scale of waste first hand, I can say for certain that tens of billions could indeed be saved simply by efficiency savings and elimination of waste, so people aren't wrong in that belief."

    I suspect you are almost certainly correct to say that we could save tens of billions simply by efficiency savings, and I hope that the next government makes doing so an urgent priority (but I'm pretty sure they won't, as they'd need the co-operation of the civil service to see it through, and they hardly have an incentive to tackle public sector waste).

    However, tens of billions ain't going to be enough. IIRC, the budget deficit is about £180 billion.

  • Comment number 76.

    I agree that the public have a lot to answer for. Pity they're not up for re-election otherwise we could boot them out. I'd very much prefer that we didn't pander to them, and maybe this is our big chance. So let's get cracking with the tax rises - on all but the low paid. If we do it properly we can end up in quite a good place.

  • Comment number 77.

    Labour are in government led by a proven liar namely Gordon Brown.
    Labour are responsible for reducing the defecit.
    For the EU commission to feel it necessary to tell the uk government is surely an indictiment to how Brown is viewed by that commission.
    Brown is playing with peoples lives purely for his own political and egotistical reasons.
    Brown is a disgrace to the uk.

  • Comment number 78.

    "MP's afraid of the public, the public are afraid of reality"
    Nick you really must get out more and stop living in the Westminster and BBC bubbles.
    The BBC is part of the problem in not seeking and telling the truth to the public, and showing breathtaking bias toward what could easily be termed the most incompetent government in living memory.
    £20, 30, 40 billion savings? Chickenfeed in what could be £1.5 trillion deficit once the election is over plus whatever PPFI will add.
    You and the bbc are not seeking or telling the truth about the deficit.
    This morning on radio 4 we heard Clegg ramble on and quote your type of figures, whereas the leader of UKIP came on and lucidly explained in only about 1 minute that about £250 billion cuts are needed in the very short term and much of it is low hanging fruit. He was cut off from his very interesting narrative by Caroline Quinn who then went on to interview the female Poet Laureate quoting her new poem about David Beckham - you could not make it up.
    So much for blaming the public when our most senior media service show such bias and immaturity during a very serious time.

  • Comment number 79.

    "The Tories are nostalgic for the lazy hazy days last summer when they could claim that Gordon Brown was "in denial" about the need for cuts, was "taking the public for fools" and David Cameron would taunt him for denying reality."

    I'm glad you recall the days where GoBro would bellow about Tory cuts versus Labour investments along with the neanderthal yah-boo backbenchers. How silly he and they look now. Oh and that "spending would go up by zero percent", remember? hehe

    How on earth he can say he "doesn't tell people what they want to hear" is beyond and it's a shambles the media haven't nailed him when he obviously has form.

  • Comment number 80.

    In Homeopathy, the patient is 'treated' with small doses of whatever caused the ailments in the first place.

    Brown seems to think the way to get us out of debt is to keep spending money. This is Brown's homeopathic remedy for our ailing economy.

    Unfortunately, it's a complete sham!

    What the country needs now is some 'proper' medicine and proper financial management, not more 'quack' remedies.

  • Comment number 81.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 82.

    So what exactly is the differnce between "economies" and "cuts" ?

  • Comment number 83.

    I think the tories should shout as much as possible about their cuts.

    Every time they do it their lead in the polls drops a few more points.

    Still too dumb to realise that the old days of private industry being the big employer are long gone. Millions of people work directly or indirectly for the state. Every time the tories mention cuts, more of these people decide they don't want to be a turkey voting for christmas. Do the tories actually think people are going to vote to make themselves unemployed????

    I think George Osborne is actually LABOUR's secret weapon - like Wedgewood-Benn was the tories biggest asset in the 70's

    Please - mention the cuts some more.

  • Comment number 84.

    The whole situation reminds me of a quotation I once read by the Prime Minister of Luxembourg: "Economically, we know what we have to do. We just don't know how to get re-elected when we've done it". I think this is very much an election to lose - whoever wins is going to be very very unpopular...

  • Comment number 85.

    Since it seems that Brown's "upturn" was fuelled soley by debt it would be only a fool who would praise it.


  • Comment number 86.

    It's unclear to me what timescale the 20-38 bn of cuts are meant to be over, but in two slashes I can save a large fraction of that...

    1) Cancel the ID card and ID Database - saves ~10 billion of you believe government costings or 19 billion if you believe independent costings. I'll assume the independent costings are more accurate

    2) Cancel the NHS NPfIT programme, opposed by GPs on confidentiality grounds, and already vastly over budget. That'll save another 10 billion.

    So that's 29 billion of savings in a couple of seconds. More can be saved by eliminating other intrusive and ineffective government databasing schemes, something New Labour has been very keen on but with little or nothing to show as a result.

  • Comment number 87.

    It's not the deficit, stupid, it's the stupid deficit.

  • Comment number 88.

    The fact is that the spending (ie public) sector has been allowed to grow out of affordable proportion to the wealth generating sector of the economy.
    By far the biggest cost driver in the public service is staff costs, so it follows that the only way to cut costs is to sack state employees-probably in very large numbers. So-called 'efficiency' savings are illusory.
    Of course the politicians don't want to spell it out.

  • Comment number 89.

    54. At 2:38pm on 16 Mar 2010, John Ruddy wrote:
    What no one seems to have pointed out is that this 3% limit which the Eu seems keen to get us to adhere to, is really the requirement to join the euro.



    its also what the Government has signed up to so they have failed to keep that promise

  • Comment number 90.

    Politicians are not alone in facing the reality regarding the issue of the deficit. Public sector workers have been shielded significantly over the last two years. For those of us in the private sector with small businesses (less than 10 employees) since April 2009 we have seen both turnover and profits fall by over 50%. Many of us have had to use our savings and investments just to keep our head above water and have e been charged for the privilege by the banks. I am unaware of any part of the public sector that has had to stomach losses on this scale.

  • Comment number 91.

    12.7% equivalent to deficit of 178 bn
    3% equivalent to deficit of 42 bn

    this is cuts or tax increases of 136 bn

    (Now total defence spending is 36 bn, NHS 90 bn)

    Are you scared yet !!!!!

    Only way to do this is something drastic say 20% pay cuts for all civil servants/MPs/Doctors/Nurses/Teachers etc etc. + 20% vat

  • Comment number 92.

    Goodness! Looks like the great clunking fist has terminated this string of comments.

  • Comment number 93.

    Better results could be achieved if they were each holding the arms of the bankers and dragging them off to court for trial. Let us create greater hardships for the people to correct the problems created by the bankers and investment firms. Only seems fair. There will be no accountability for the greatest theft in human history and therefore the trust of the people will be slow in coming. Niether politicans nor bankers understand this. The reality is that none of them have any real plan and point to other countries for comparing gloom. The US and England seemed the safest place for the bankers to steal as the politics of each country was already bought and the conservatives in both countries would blame the poor or someone else for the access they had provided and the lack of regulations they endorsed..... more politics on behalf of the bankers by their handmaidens.

  • Comment number 94.

    "[The Tories] have given more detail than Labour"

    Did I miss something?

  • Comment number 95.

    #56 falanf
    '...spare a thought for the poor politician ...'

    I was going to address every one of your points but it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
    Where's your constituency? (You needn't be specific, just the region'll do!)

  • Comment number 96.

    stuart1967 59

    I don't see what's juvenile about not wanting to end up like Greece. The EU report proves what we probably all know, namely, only the Tories have credible policies to tackle the deficit and save the country from economic ruin.

  • Comment number 97.

    Let's just change the way we think about this. Essentially, the government is elected by us and paid by us to run the country. Yes - that's right - we paid for a service. It is then for the government to run the country on whatever budget they have, and to try to run it as well as possible.

    Gordon Brown in this instance is no more than an elaborate CEO... and if any other CEO were as incapable of running a budget as Gordon clearly is, he would be sacked... if only.

  • Comment number 98.


    "...Whatever the opinion polls say,the 7th of May will see Gordon and Peter still holding the reins of government in this country, with the Tory leader already buried in the setting concrete of time."

    Trying to convince yourself?

    Whenever I'm afraid
    I whistle a happy tune
    And no-one ever knows
    I'm afraid.

    Even if it were true, which I think has only a 2% chance, the thought of Brown and Mandelson having four or five more years in office is too frightening to contemplate. Cameron doesn't inspire me, and I won't ever vote Tory (don't need to where I live), but I would if it'd help ditch the worst prime minister in the last century and his unelected puppet-master.

  • Comment number 99.

    'The Tories once promised to match Labour's spending'

    Yes, but only pre credit crunch. They dropped this commitment as soon as the credit crunch hit.

    'then called for an "age of austerity"'

    They didn't call for it. They merely pointed out that this would be a consequence of Labour's economic mismanagement.

    'before insisting that there would be no "swingeing cuts". '

    At no point did the Tories ever say there would be swingeing or savage cuts (Nick Clegg used the 'savage' word). Therefore it is disengenuous to try and potray this as a change in policy.

    The Tories are the only party that take cutting the deficit seriously. I suspect everyone knows they are right but, as the opinion poll shows, there are a lot of people still in denial.

  • Comment number 100.

    It is the morning after the General Election.

    A telephone is ringing, and ringing and ringing.

    A hand reaches out from under a duvet and grabs the handset pulling it back under the duvet.

    `Yes' says a deep voice with a Fife accent.

    `Good morning, Prime Minister.' A loud chirpy, chippy voice bellows from out of the handset.

    `Who is this?' Mr. Brown asks, for it is he who is under the duvet.

    `Its Charlie, Prime Minister.'

    `Charlie who? Chaplin or Chester?' Mr. Brown chuckles at his own wit as he finds these bogus working class types quite insufferable.

    `Charlie Whelan, Prime Minister. How does it feel to be an elected Prime Minister at last?'

    `Oh beggar!' Mr Brown mumbles as he slams the telephone down on the chirpy chappie. `We were supposed to lose so we could blame the Tories for the cuts. What on earth do we do now?'

    `Never mind dear,' Sarah mumbles still half asleep.`Just do what you always do and make it up as you go along. It never stopped you before.'


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