The Conservatives' invitation
The Labour and Conservative manifestos are very different. Labour's was big on words - and detailed promises and commitments which we had heard before. It put government at the centre. The Conservative version is longer, but lighter. About a third of its 118 pages actually contains written text - the rest is made up of pictures, fun facts, and (yes) blank pages to give readers a rest. Their focus is on the private sector - and on individuals.
But the two documents have one important thing in common: neither of them makes any further contribution to public understanding on how Britain's £167bn budget deficit is going to be cut. And they both leave plenty out.
This, I suppose, was what we expected. But it is still surprising to me, given the state of the public finances, that of all those 118 pages, the Conservatives decided to dedicate precisely four to macro-economic policy.
They will say that is as it should be. The manifesto says, time and again, that the Conservatives want a bigger private sector, and a "bigger society" to take the lead role in Britain's future, not the government.
But, assuming they don't agree with Engels and Lenin on this one, the state isn't going to just wither away. There is no new detail in those 118 pages on how, exactly, that is going to be done. There is not even any more detail on how fast they would do it.
Once again, we are told that a Tory government would "eliminate the bulk of the structural deficit over the next parliament". Once again, we are left to draw our own conclusions about the definition of the word bulk. All we are told is that it will be bigger than the "bulk" of the deficit that Labour plans to get rid of over the period.
As I've said before, the government has made it easy for the Conservatives by not doing a spending review for after 2011. It would be completely unreasonable to expect a party in opposition to offer more details on future departmental spending than the party that now sits in the Treasury.
But many would say that it was not unreasonable to ask for a concrete target for reducing the deficit from a party that has put the the deficit at the centre of its agenda.
Outside observers - the OECD, the IMF, and many others - have criticised Labour for not providing a more "credible plan" for reducing the deficit. The Tories have understandably leapt on that criticism.
Once again, the party in power can and should be held to a higher standard on this. But I wonder whether those same observers would say you can build a credible deficit reduction plan on the definition of the word "bulk".
What detail do we know? Well, once again, this manifesto has the cuts in tax credits, public-sector pay freeze and other measures which Mr Osborne announced last autumn, which he said would raise £7bn a year by 2014-15.
Now, not all of that is in addition to Labour's plans - the public-sector pay freeze, for example, will raise less money now that Labour has its own plans to cap pay rises in the public sector. But assume, very generously, that most of it is - maybe £6bn.
Yes, there is that extra £6bn a year in efficiency savings, starting this year. But remember that from 2011, they will be spending almost all of that on preventing Labour's National Insurance increase next year, and freezing council tax for two years.
The Conservatives' own costings of those proposals suggest they will cost £5.4bn a year by 2013-14. But the Treasury, and the IFS, have said the true cost of the council tax measure will be a bit higher, due to the vagaries of the Barnett formula - perhaps £1.4bn a year rather than £1.1bn suggested by the Conservatives.
So the chances are the £6bn have been spent after 2011-12. That leaves a one-off reduction in borrowing of £6bn - the equivalent of just over £1bn a year over the course of the Parliament - to add to that previous £6bn.
That means that, on the basis of this manifesto, the Conservatives would cut borrowing by - at most - £7bn a year more than Labour by 2015-16 - a difference of half a per cent of GDP.
Do we think that this is the extent of their deficit-cutting zeal? We are given the strong impression that it is not. For those who wonder what might come after the election that has not been signposted in this manifesto, I would note that the Conservatives, like Labour, have left themselves plenty of room for further cuts.
Notably - there is not a single reference to child benefit in this manifesto.
Mr Osborne said last October that he would "preserve" it. But (and I would be happy to get corrected on this), it's not clear whether that rules out means-testing it, which the IFS reckons could save £5-6bn a year. Freezing benefits and tax credits across the board would save £4.1bn a year from 2011.
The manifesto does commit the party to "protect" the winter fuel payment, free bus passes, free TV licenses, the disability living allowance and attendance allowance, and the pension credit.
Mr Cameron said recently, with regard to most of those, that he would keep them, as he inherits them. But that is not repeated in this text. But you can surely "protect" allowances, while you freeze them.
You can play the same guessing game - for both Labour and the Conservatives - when it comes to VAT. (As far as I can tell, VAT isn't mentioned either.) But I do worry that it's counter-productive. At best, the media ends up cornering politicians into making promises they shouldn't really make.
But, to end this post as I ended the last one, it would have been good to have some more details today, from the party that wants to be in government next month, of the fiscal upheaval we face in next five years.
Update 16:00: I said I would be glad to have clarification of the Tories' policy on child benefit. Clarification has been duly given: George Osborne's commitment last year to "preserve" the benefit does indeed rule out means-testing.
It seems odd that the Conservatives did not choose to clarify this major promise in the manifesto - or, indeed, mention child benefit at all. Their explanation is that the manifesto "can't possibly deal with the position on every benefit".
That may be true. But the manifesto lists five benefits which they will "protect", four of which cost significantly less than child benefit. If you can find a line in your manifesto for free TV licences, which cost just under £600m a year, you might have thought you could find a space for a benefit that costs £11bn.
Then again, Labour didn't mention child benefit in their manifesto either. Apparently it is the Great Unmentionable.