Chancellor Philip Hammond fell into his own worst nightmare while trying to attack Labour on BBC Radio 4. Hammond was trying to fearmonger about Labour’s spending plans. But ended up messing up his own party’s costing by over £20bn. For someone known as ‘Spreadsheet Phil’, it couldn’t have gone worse:
Oomph! Conservative Chancellor Phillip Hammond just got his numbers wrong by £20000000000. Staggering incompetence pic.twitter.com/UoeWUJfbAY
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Hammond was attacking Labour’s plans to bring vital public services, such as energy, into democratic ownership. The Chancellor claimed Labour’s pledges do not add up. But moments later, the candidate for Runnymede and Weybridge messed up his own costing on the HS2 railway by £20bn. BBC Presenter John Humphrys called him out:
£32bn? Not £52bn?
Hammond spluttered about ‘contingency plans’ in response:
Errr, it’s over… I mean, there’s a huge amount of contingency built into the budgeting for these projects.
The other side of the story
But there is a deeper issue here. How much a government initiative costs is only one side of the story. The other side is the future returns and savings brought about by that investment. The Conservatives, for example, say HS2 will bring £2.50 for every £1 spent in later economic benefit.
That is precisely the logic behind Labour’s investment policies. And it’s why Humphrys cut through Hammond’s scaremongering about Labour’s plans for public ownership on Radio 4:
Except you know perfectly well that a huge amount of that money will come back to the government, to the taxpayer, one way or another.
Everyone already pays for energy, mail, shelter, water and travel, so Labour argues it would be cheaper to pay for it together under a public ownership scheme.
The media rarely asks how much government investment will save the taxpayer in the future. And journalists like Humphrys must bring it up a lot more if this is going to be an informed election.
Of course, misspeaking isn’t the be all and end all of politics. But there appears to be a double standard here. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott gave the wrong number in a radio interview earlier in May, and the negative coverage was everywhere. Now, ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ messes up his figures by £20bn, and there isn’t much of a peep from the press.
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