By politics.co.uk staff
David Cameron and Nick Clegg issued two markedly different warnings about the "painful" spending cuts ahead, just weeks before the emergency Budget.
The prime minister and deputy prime minister offered a message which was factually identical but politically a mile apart, with Mr Cameron sounding a tough message on the cuts to come and Mr Clegg insisting there would be no return to the "harshness" of the 1980's.
"There is a huge amount of debt that has got to be dealt with. Crossing our fingers, waiting for growth and hoping it will go away is simply not an answer," Mr Cameron told the Sunday Times.
"The country has got an overdraft. The interest on that overdraft is swallowing up things that the nation should otherwise be spending money on. We have got to take people with us on this difficult journey."
Welfare spending, public sector pay and bureaucracy will all be the focus of government efforts, Mr Cameron said.
"Otherwise you will have to make reductions across the board which you don't want to do. We need to address the areas where we have been living beyond our means," he argued.
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg was presenting a case for compassionate cuts in the Observer, with an emphasis on consultation and consensus.
"It is important that people understand that fiscal retrenchment does not mean a repeat of the 1980s. We're going to do this differently," he said.
"Our collective memory of difficult budget decisions all hark back to the harshness of the 1980s."
Mr Clegg insisted that centre-left governments in Sweden, Canada and the US have shown that public engagement is the most effective and ethical way of cutting down budget deficits.
"They made some really big, difficult decisions on transfer payments, on benefits, on welfare, really painful ones," he wrote.
"They brought people along with them by not just doing the... top-down approach from some windowless room in the Treasury, as happened in the 1980s, but genuinely trying to engage people.
"So you're going to see a level of public engagement in this that you've never seen in this country before."
Labour leadership hopeful David Miliband branded Mr Clegg's comments "breathtaking hypocrisy" in an interview on the Andrew Marr programme today.
"The coalition government have got a honeymoon, but Nick Clegg has shown breathtaking hypocrisy in his Observer column today talking about the cuts he campaigned against in the general elections," he said.
The emergency budget will take place on June 22nd.