The Institute for Fiscal Studies gave one of its cheering presentations today on quite how miserable things are going to be for a good while longer. Today’s event was on the forthcoming spending review, but the IFS and Institute for Government also offered some predictions about the long-term economic picture. In a briefing note, the two organisations warned that we are likely to have not one but two austerity elections. It said:
‘If the UK experience proves to be as drawn out as the Canadian one, we should expect not just 2015 but also 2020 to be an austerity election. Spending reductions are set to be a long-term feature of UK public finances, rather than a short and sharp experience. When the Chancellor stands up to speak on 26 June 2013, will he be frank about the long-term reality of austerity?’
But will any politician be frank with the electorate about the long-term reality of austerity as they approach the general election? The IFS reminded us today that cutting departmental expenditure limits at the same rate as planned over the years covered by the 2010 spending review would require £9 billion of tax rises or welfare cuts or higher borrowing in 2017/18.
The big question is how frank politicians are prepared to be about how they would fill that £9 billion black hole? It would perhaps be beneficial to all parties if they went into the 2015 general election on a platform of mutually assured silence about tax rises, rather than interrogating one another about what they would do.