Britain’s political parties faced increasing pressure on Wednesday to be more honest about the scale of cuts that will be needed after next week’s election to get a record budget deficit under control.
The economy was back in the fore after a think-tank criticised all parties for the lack of detail in their fiscal plans ahead of Thursday’s final television leaders’ debate, which will focus on economic policy.
Repairing the public finances will be the biggest domestic policy challenge for whichever party wins the May 6 election, but the parties have been reluctant to risk voters’ wrath by clearly identifying the extent of cuts.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said on Tuesday the impending spending squeeze would be the sharpest in at least 30 years and warned the parties would likely have to raise taxes more than they are prepared to admit.
British government debt notched 62 percent of GDP in the financial year to March, the highest level since comparable records began in 1974/75.
All three major parties agree tough fiscal tightening is needed but they differ over when the pain should start and how to share the burden.
Opposition Conservative finance spokesman George Osborne, his Liberal Democrat counterpart Vince Cable, and the ruling Labour party’s Business Minister Peter Mandelson will come under scrutiny over their respective plans for the economy as they face questions from business leaders in London.
In an interview with the Times newspaper, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Labour, in power for 13 years, lacked energy, and the election had now become a choice between “two competing pitches for change”.
“This is now a two-horse race between the Conservative Party and the Lib Dems,” he said.
Opinion polls on Wednesday continued to point to a hung parliament, in which no one party wins an overall majority, but showed the Conservatives and Labour had regained some ground from the Lib Dems, who have enjoyed a ratings boost since the first TV leaders’ debate.
Clegg faces Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron on Thursday in the third and final TV debate.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)