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Stop Lying About the Nation’s Credit Card

By Tim Hardy

We’re making sure that this generation does not bankrupt the next. Not saddling them with our debts, not maxing out on the nation’s credit card, but building a better future for our children.

Tory Party Chairman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

For a party feigning concern about “the nation’s credit card”, the Conservatives are remarkably comfortable with the rest of us getting further and further into debt.

Through slashing funding for further education and tripling fees, the Tories have shown that they are more than happy to saddle the next generation of students with debts.

Attempts to restrict the interest rates that can be charged by legal loan sharks were shot down by Conservatives with the help of their yellow colleagues.

London’s Tory mayor, the man Private Eye has nicknamed Borisconi, has a notoriously comfy relationship with Wonga who currently charge an APR on payday loans of over 4000%.

Indeed, the official OBR estimates from March show that it is estimated that household debt in the UK will grow by 0.5 trillion pounds over the next four years.

For all their talk of paying down the nation’s credit card, the Tory plan is merely to shift the debt onto us, onto our credit cards, our overdrafts, our mortgages. It is a lie to justify selling off what is left of our country to those who fund them in a crisis that was also caused by those who fund them. It’s the heist of the century.

Back in October, a Guardian editorial warned of the dangers of misleading metaphors and savaged Osborne’s distorted rhetoric.

Government finances are not like a credit card or (that other Tory favourite) a household budget – because countries are not individuals. As far as anyone can tell, the British government will last for centuries – unlike any household. The British government can print its own money and raise its own taxes – not so that nice couple on Acacia Avenue. An individual might feel good about being in the black – but, in pure accounting terms, if a government runs a budget surplus then that means businesses and households are in deficit, which isn’t such good news. For a government to run a deficit makes the sort of sense that a family could never justify to itself. Mr Osborne’s analogy is as off-beam as his conclusion – that what Britain needs is savage spending cuts. A powerful metaphor wins political arguments, but the wrong metaphor just distorts them.

Sadly this message has been lost.

Ed Miliband has shown in his recent speech to the Labour conference that he is uncritically singing from the same hymn sheet, trotting out the same idiotic line about paying off the credit card as the government.

Every time a politician says we have to do with the nation’s finances what a prudent householder would do with a credit card bill, you can stop listening. It’s nonsense.

If you want to read an analysis that systematically destroys the idea that the deficit can be compared to a credit card and then explains why the apparent solutions that this metaphor suggests are wrong, read What’s the best way to reduce the deficit? at False Economy.

Clifford Singer recently argued that since politicians tend to move to the right, the left needs to regain its voice and create its own narratives so that we are not leaving it up to the editors of the Express and the Daily Mail to do so.

We cannot wait for elected representatives or for the media to drive this narrative. It is up to us. We need to start challenging the lies which politicians use to justify their actions and journalists who fail to question and to do so loudly and repeatedly until they can no longer pretend that they cannot hear us.

Only an idiot or a con artist would describe the economic choices facing the government as that of paying off “the nation’s credit card”. Next time an MP trots out this line, demand to know which one they are.

[With thanks to @langtry_girl for extra research.]

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