Deficit questions hammer the campaign

By Ian Dunt

Demands that the three main political parties map out their plans for spending cuts after the election are reaching a crescendo.

Peter Mandelson, George Osborne and Vince Cable addressed the Institute of Directors (IoD) today. Alistair Darling also faced questions at a speech in Edinburgh.

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“If you’re asking me for the specifics of each cut in each department’s spending you know it’s not possible at a time like this to set up that detail,” an embattled Peter Mandelson told reporters at a morning press conference today.

“We are coming out of an economic and financial hurricane but we’re not out of it yet. It’s not possible in those circumstances to do an economic weather forecast.”

The business secretary quickly cast aside suggestions Britain was comparable to Greece, which is threatening to devastate European markets today as the crisis over its deficit continues.

“Britain is not Greece,” Lord Mandelson insisted.

But David Cameron said responsibility for coming clean with the public lay with Gordon Brown.

“When you’ve got a government that hasn’t even set out a spending review, I would say the responsibility for the state of this problem and for not being frank with the public lies with Gordon Brown,” he said.

The row comes a day after the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found all three parties were “reticent” to discuss their spending cuts plans before polling day.

The Lib Dems were found to have specified more than either of the two other parties, but even they had only mapped out 25.9%.

“For the voters to make an informed choice in this election, the parties need to explain clearly how they would go about achieving it. Unfortunately, they have not,” said Robert Chote, IFS director.

The IoD’s director, Miles Templeman, told the Today programme this morning that there had been insufficient discussion of the level of deficit reduction required by the private sector.

“All of the issues that are critical to business are not really being described in any great detail in the run up to the election,” he said.

Mr Osborne mapped out his ideas for a new regulatory system and banking levyduring his speech .

“Our objective is very clear: a successful and competitive banking industry that works for the people instead of being bailed out by the people,” he said.

Mr Darling argued the Conservative’s ideas are dangerous.

“It’s not their youth and inexperience that worries me about the Tory leadership,” the chancellor said.

“It is their values, their instincts and their dangerous policies.”

A survey for the Financial Times today found banking leaders had more faith in Mr Darling than Mr Osborne. Most said they would prefer Ken Clarke or William Hague as chancellor.