Tories won't let facts come into the election campaign - and they don't need to

Managing impressions: Osborne doesn't want party manifestos audited by the OBR
Managing impressions: Osborne doesn't want party manifestos audited by the OBR
Ian Dunt By

Today's opening skirmishes in the general election show just how little facts will matter in the next four months. The Tories are not in the business of reality. They are the business of muddying the water.

Just an hour after Ed Miliband launches Labour's election campaign, five Cabinet ministers will hold a joint press conference to highlight Labour's uncosted spending. The size of the joint Cabinet press conference is unprecedented in the modern era, but the tactic is not. We don't know the full details yet, but the Tories will use Treasury costing assessments to give an underpinning of respectability to what are really their own party political assumptions over spending. Presumably this will be split into household cost so a 'Labour tax bombshell' headline can be driven straight into tomorrow's front pages.

The tactic was well foreseen by Ed Balls, who had previously called for all the main parties' manifestos to be costed by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. That was rejected and it was rejected for very specific reasons. Verifiable facts are a hindrance. Whoever is in government – it's the Tories now but Labour would do the same if the roles were reversed – is much more interested in muddying the water.

According to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the uncosted pledges in David Cameron's last conference speech alone would add up to £7 billion a year by 2020. George Osborne doesn't want that sort of thing aired in public by a body he himself set up and he can't afford for Labour to win even a modicum of economic credibility. So instead of having an election in which the economic reality of what is being proposed is assessed by independent experts, we are having another one composed of claims and counter-claims.

After a few weeks of this – if they haven't done it already – the public will throw up its hands and conclude you can't trust anyone. That benefits the Tories far more than Labour, because the existing sense is that it's only the Conservatives who can be trusted with the economy.

This is where the heavy lifting of those early weeks in power comes in useful. In a relatively short period of time the Tories, with Liberal Democrat assistance, succeeded in convincing people that Labour disastrously sabotaged the economy. Against that backdrop, any muddying of the water equates to a victory for the Tories, because it protects that intellectual status quo.

The election is not about reality. It is about impressions of reality. And the Tories are intent on keeping it that way.

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