“We’ve cut the deficit by a third… or is it a half?”

The Conservatives have launched a campaign poster declaring “THE DEFICIT HALVED”.  This is odd, as up until a few weeks ago they had been telling us they’d cut the deficit by a third.

To quote the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson, who drew attention to this shameless reshaping of British economic reality, “In the first six months of 2010 the government borrowed an extra £65.9 billion. In the first six months of 2014 year, it was £44.2 billion – so down by a third.”

Then how did our honest leaders come up with the “deficit halved” claim?  Easy.  They just redefined the word “deficit”.  To most of us, the deficit is a cash figure: the money the government has to borrow to pay for public spending not covered by taxes etc.  It is the amount we add to our national debt each year.  Now, magically, it means something different: “deficit” is apparently shorthand for “deficit as a percentage of GDP”.  And as GDP has risen over the last five years (it could hardly have done otherwise), this convenient ratio has fallen faster than the actual cash value of the deficit.

Tories will argue that the ratio is what matters in practice – the cash figure is meaningless unless you know how big is the economy that is incurring the resulting debt.  But that doesn’t make their pre-election definition-fiddling any less sneaky.