Coffee House

David Cameron rebuked for telling porkies about the national debt

1 February 2013

Where was Andrew Dilnot in the Gordon Brown era? The head of the UK Statistics Authority has just rebuked the Prime Minister for telling porkies about debt on his ITV broadcast last week. CoffeeHousers will remember that the PM made the flatly untrue claim that:

‘though this government has had to make some difficult decisions, we are making progress. We’re paying down Britain’s debts.’

The truth is that his government will  increase Britain’s debt by 58 per cent, and by more over five years than Labour did over 13 years.  Just last week, we learned the national debt had hit £1,111 billion and it’s heading to £1,534 billion. Put this into perspective: the Libya campaign cost £200 million. The national debt has risen by more than that today so far, and it’s only lunchtime.

Dilnot’s letter, sent to Labour’s Rachel Reeves (who lodged the complaint) and pointedly copied to Cameron’s Chief of Staff, reads as follows:

‘It is clearly important for all parties to public debate in this area to understand the relevant statistical definitions and to distinguish changes in the level of debt outstanding from changes in borrowing per period, and to reflect these in their communication of the statistical trends involved.’

I’d have written it differently:

If a financier misleads, he can go to prison — and quite right too. But there are, alas, no laws obliging politicians to tell the truth about debt. They should because there is no such thing as ‘government debt,’ only debt which government foists on the  public for collection via higher taxes over a decade or two. Or three. Every penny David Cameron borrows today (and he will borrow 44,000,000,000 pennies today) will have to be paid off by voters, their children or their grandchildren.

Forget politics, forget spin, forget electoral strategy. This about basic decency. Ministers should level with the public about the debt they are putting on other people’s shoulders. You can’t use weasel words like ‘deal with the debt’, which are designed to give the impression of lowering debt. You can’t tell people you’re ‘wiping the slate clean’ when you’re taking UK debt levels from £786 billion to £1,534 billion.

When it comes to the national debt, ministers need to speak clearly and honestly. Those who cannot bring themselves to so should be flogging stuff from a black bag on Oxford St, not holding public office. Just 6 per cent of the public realise the debt is rising. This shows an appalling honesty deficit in the national debate: a deficit which the Prime Minister has a duty to close.

I wouldn’t blog if Cameron’s ITV broadcast was just one slip of the tongue. But it fits a trend. Here’s Osborne asking the 2011 Tory conference to imagine a future free from debt (yes, the same Chancellor who drew the scary pink part of the graph at the top):

Here’s Cameron on ITV again in September claiming his mission is to ‘get the debt down’:

Here’s Nick Clegg telling Essex factory workers that he will ‘wipe the slate clean’ of debt:

This was such a misleading analogy that Clegg was hauled up for it by The Guardian. But he has constantly repeated: the below from Radio 2 in October:

And on Sky News in December:

So is any surprise that just 10pc realise that the government is massively increasing debt? Might the fact they everyone is misled be connected to the amount of misleading being conducted from the highest levels of government? A video from my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Studies sums it up nicely:

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Show comments
  • Had enough

    Stop all this talk on deficit and debt. The main problem is the “bank of england” like the federal reserve in the USA , it is the biggest scam of modern history. We can’t go on borrowing from a privately owned bank anymore. The goverment has the power to issue it’s own currency and that is what it should be doing, not borrowing it at interest from a privately owned bank. If the “bank of england” is our nations public bank then surely the debt can be written off by the government who runs it, but as that is not the case we continue to fatten the pockets of whoever owns this bank. We can’t continue with the slavery to the pound that is going on today. Wake up and do the research and you will see this system and situation we are in today is by design to keep the everyday joe like you me enslaved along with our children and future generations to come.

  • John McEvoy

    The main issue is securing another five years of high salaries, high benefits, easily fiddled expenses, ministerial limos, 5 Star hotels, long holidays, subsidised eating and drinking and unlimited taxis around Town – all at the public expense. It’s surely worth telling a few lies for all that? Remmber, they’re all in it together.

  • real__world

    The expression is “lying sacks of s***” and Cameron, Osborne & Cleggy have it in spades !

  • dalai guevara

    The debts of financial institutions amount to more than £3,550bn.
    Lunchtime? What about the 9.15am coffee break, Fraser?

  • paulstpancras

    Um, what is the private sector debt of the UK? £5 trillion? Private sector efficient?

  • Paddy Briggs

    You are quite right to castigate the Government for the lies Fraser. But the broader issue as to whether deficit financing is justified to stimulate growth? Gets lost sadly.

  • Tom Tom

    Yesterday Max Keiser quoted Fraser Nelson and Speccie extensively on this issue on Keiser Report 400

  • Roger Hudson

    It seems to be the old confusion, which is encouraged to exist, between DEBT and DEFICIT, you can have a huge debt ( say a buy-to-let mortgage) but can have a rental profit every month. As long as you keep pedalling the bike shouldn’t fall over.
    To cut the actual debt all the credit cards must be cut up, half the shops in Britain must close,all ‘advisors’ and contractors must be let go, more than half of all public sector workers must be sacked and benefits cut to a 1949 level : it just isn’t going to happen.

  • peterb

    Cameron was quite correct we (UK) are tackling the overspend and paying off (down) our debts, emphasis on debts.Even private individuals are paying down their debts.

    The National debt will continue to rise as the deficit increases that, however by lowering the deficit by a quarter and using QE to lower the interest rate payable on outstanding national debt, the effect is we are reducing the annual deficit, which clearly means we are paying our debts.

    • Roger Hudson

      Who are paying off their debts, why are people still using credit cards and getting ‘payday loans’.
      What does ‘payday loan ‘ mean to a family on the dole?

  • David Sylvester

    How did they know that Cameron was trying to mislead. Could it be that he opened his mouth and uttered some words ??

  • Aled Michaels

    Cameron is a liar, he cannot be trusted, we need big change in the UK

    Sign this petition to restrict Bulgarian and Romanians from entering the UK:

    Sign this petition to allow UKIP to take part in the 2015 TV election

    • Michael990

      The trouble is, old chap, that we all know that the government takes absolutely no notice of these petitions. Fine, if signing helps you let off steam, but no better than giving a post here a positive rec. We are run by a government of federast EU politicians and all 3 main parties are the same. Nothing can change this, or any of their Brussels controlled policies. They simply have no interest in what we say.
      Incidentally, the very last thing that we want is any more TV debates. That’s how we ended up with the puerile Clegg.

    • Roger Hudson

      I think people say Bulgarian or Romanian when they really mean Roma (Zigani).

  • BenM_Kent

    When did Brown lie like Cameron did?

    You might criticise Brown for what happened on his watch but he was not a dissembling intellectual lightweight like Dave.

    • lee taylor

      No more boom and bust

      • McRobbie

        10% tax scam, gold sales, pension destruction all based on lies.

      • seanysweetpea

        Actually it was, “No more TORY boom and bust.” On that he was surely right; unfortunately we are left with a permanent Tory bust.

    • Magnolia

      See my comment above.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ha! Brown was the Prince of Dissembling.

    • 2trueblue

      Brown had a language of his own that could make things appear OK until you started to unpick it. If you consider that to be of an intellectual quality, good for you. Brown set out to deceive.

  • LB

    Fraser, you’re doing the same thing as Cameron.

    Debts are more than borrowing.

    What about the 5,300 bn pensions debt that’s hidden off the books?

    Ah yes, its the little man that gets screwed by that.

    • seanysweetpea

      He is. And by presenting the data from 2000 he is suggesting that debt didn’t exist before Labour was elected. Labour inherited a national debt from the last Tory government broadly similar to the debt level with which we entered the 2008 recession.

      • LB

        What debt? Fraser is just presenting the borrowing, with the implication that is the ‘only’ debt of the government.

        That’s just as much of a fraud than Cameron, Clegg and Milliband.

        Why won’t they include the 5,300 bn pensions debt?

        Ah yes, if people knew they would work out the game is up.

        • seanysweetpea

          And the deficit levels too Labour inherited were broadly similar to the borrowing levels with which we entered the recession. As for the so called pensions debt – that has always been the case I the UK, let’s not pretend it is a modern confection.

  • lee taylor

    Well as he pointed out in PMQs in order to pay down the debt you first have to reduce the deficit which this letter confirms is down by a quarter since 2010 so in that sense in could be argued that he is paying down the debt.

    • LB


    • duyfken

      That’s just sheer lying. In no way can a debt be reduced by reducing the amount one continues to borrow. It’s only when a surplus is produced that a lower debt level can be achieved. Such dissembling is abhorrent and I hope Cameron has Dilnot’s message rammed down his throat.

      • Span Ows

        You’re all missing what Cameron actually said…again. he did not say ‘debt’ he said ‘debts’ so in no way could that be equated to ‘the national debt.

        • George_Arseborne

          What debts other than national debt? Maybe his and that of his buddy George. How could a nation allow these jokes to be at the helm of matters?

  • monty61

    Labour are just as guilty, they don’t want the great unwashed to know the truth either.

    • George_Arseborne

      The truth is simple, this government will borrow far more in their 5years fix term than Labour’s entire 13 years. Why are you hurt by facts provided by an unbiased right wing journalist. You should rather be embarassed by the lie coming from our own PM eh!?

      • Span Ows

        You’ve written this before, it would be more honest if you wrote WHY this government will borrow far more in 5 years than Labour’s entire 13 years…will you admit why? …go on

      • 2trueblue

        Absolutely, because paying down debt costs a lot of money. You obviously have had little experience of the real world of helping people to deal with personal/business debt issues. The problem our present government have is dealing with 13yrs of debt run up by Liebore, and this was supposedly during a time when we were experiencing a boom.

        • George_Arseborne

          And how are they dealing with that? Borrowing more to service recession? If they borrow and the Economy booms of course l will take off my hat for that. But the Economy is burst under their watch. Darling handed a growing Economy to Osborne, is that right? Then what webt wrong?

          • FrenchNewsonlin

            “Darling handed a growing Economy to Osborne…” . That’s presumably why the dire Liam Byrne left a note saying “There’s no money left.”

          • 2trueblue

            The perfect answer is below so I will not try and improve on something that does the job.

    • Gary Clark

      yeah and you’ve never had it so good

  • Colonel Mustard

    Why did he send the letter to Rachel Reeves? Sounds like another Labour concocted stitch up.

    • Its_not_craig

      Erm…she wrote to him in the first place.

      Stitch up?


      • Colonel Mustard

        So why did she write to him then? Sounds like another Labour concocted stitch up?

  • 2trueblue

    At last he found his voice. clever little chap. Where were they all during the 13yrs of Liebores reign indeed? The real problem is we have very few journalists o quality that can articulate what is going on. They fail to convey to the mass what the debt and deficit is.

    Carry on then, in ignorance.

    • Magnolia

      Fraser is famous for asking Gordon Brown some awkward questions.
      Do you not remember Fraser asking him if he was being truthful about planned cuts?
      The video is available on Youtube.
      Fraser asked PM Brown about planned cuts (amounting to a cumulative 7% over three years as confirmed by the IFS) across the board in their budget.
      Gordon Brown said that public spending was rising every year and would continue to rise and that Fraser had exceeded his question quota and had butted in on him and that he should ask the Conservatives about their plans for 10% cuts and closures of schools and hospitals.

  • Victor Southern

    Baffling. It is true that the coalition is reducing the deficit but expenditure exceeds income so the debt is rising.

    One cannot pay down the deficit – it is not cumulative year by year.

    Only when we have eliminated the deficit can we pay down debt.

    I find it hard to understand why many of our politicians are unable to comprehend those simple facts.

    • 2trueblue

      Because they are dumb? Or it is a great scam to confuse the public. Mind you the BBC have real problems conveying the information.

      • Magnolia

        They’re not dumb. One might say they talk too much. They’re dishonest or simply gaming the facts.

        • 2trueblue

          You are right, too many words and very little communication. On the BBC front we are very badly served by them, they are only interested in their agenda.

    • LB

      Only when we have eliminated the deficit can we pay down debt.

      Not the case. You might be able to start reducing the borrowing, but there are other debts, and they are rising exponentially. eg. Pensions debts – off the books. 5,300 bn at the last estimate.

    • Its_not_craig

      The deficit is now rising – putting our dear Leader’s other claim of “cutting the deficit by 25%” into the category marked “sham”.

    • George_Arseborne

      Because Cameron do not know the difference between debt and deficit. He will need to take EBAC Economics. Recommendation Micheal Gove.

      • Tom Tom

        He is supposed to have done History/Economics at A-Level but no doubt it was Multiple Choice

    • Daniel Maris

      “Only when we have eliminated the deficit can we pay down debt.”

      Surely that depends on interest rates. If my expenditure on everything (except interest rates on debt) stays the same but the interest rates come down, then the deficit is reduced. If I choose not to reduce the deficit but to convert the saving on interest rates to a sum to pay off debt (i.e. maintain expenditure including debt servicing at the same level) , I have paid off debt even though the deficit has neither been reduced nor eliminated.

      Perhaps you meant “pay down and eliminate ALL the debt”.

      • Tom Tom

        Bond Market collapse will put an end to that theory

      • Victor Southern

        Your grasp of economics is as poor as that of any of the politicians that we are criticising.

        • Daniel Maris

          I notice you don’t actually dispute anything but prefer to indulge in insult. If there is anything illogical or poorly argued in what I posted why don’t you actually explain what it was…or is it the case that you can’t (not least because you don’t actually understand what I said).

          • George_Arseborne

            Come on Victor Southern! Why the silence? Lack of understanding and resorting to insults shows how myopic your thinking is.

      • theProle

        “If I choose not to reduce the deficit but to convert the saving on interest rates to a sum to pay off debt ”

        That’s where you are going wrong. Since the deficit is the amount you have to borrow every year, if you keep borrowing at the same level to pay off some of what you already owe, the effect is the same as reducing your deficit.

        Ultimately, a government can only have three possible states:
        Deficit – more is borrowed than paid back. National debt grows.
        Books balanced exactly – National debt static.
        Surplus – more is paid back than borrowed, National debt falls.

        Unfortunately, we currently have a very large deficit, which the government is very slowly making into a slightly smaller deficit – meanwhile the national debt just keeps growing.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Can we get to the lies about the EU? The Norway porky first, then all the others.

  • Robert_Eve

    My guess is that not many understand this or care.

    • Leon Steed

      Sadly true and yet they are still allowed to vote!

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