David Cameron has stepped up his attack on Labour, warning that the opposition’s failure to tackle the deficit in the public finances could plunge the country into “real poverty” if they regained power in the general election in May.
As the main parties moved on to a clear election footing, the Prime Minister insisted his plans to eliminate the deficit by 2018 were “moderate, sensible and reasonable”.
He said he did not want to see the regular armed forces cut any further, but refused to commit to maintaining the Nato target of spending 2% of national income on defence, saying it “depends on what happens on the economy”.
During a wide-ranging interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron also indicated he could hold his promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, saying he would be “delighted” if negotiations with Brussels could be completed earlier.
Mr Cameron challenged figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting that the Government had so far only found 40% of the cuts needed to address the deficit and that the remaining 60% would have to be found during the next parliament.
“Those figures aren’t actually correct. They don’t take into account what we have already said we would do for 2015-16,” he said.
He defended Conservative plans which he said meant cutting spending by government departments by a further £13 billion and reducing welfare spending by £12 billion while saving £5 billion by tackling tax evasion.
“It is not some ideological obsession, it is not because we are dessicated accountants. It’s because I think it’s right for our country, it is right for future generations, that at the end of seven years of economic growth, by 2018, we should start not to be borrowing but to be putting aside money for a rainy day when storms in the future might hit,” he said.
“It is moderate, it is sensible, it is reasonable. It is the alternative that frightens me - and it genuinely does frighten me - of Labour and the Liberal Democrats who want to go on borrowing year after year, never paying back any money.
“If we turn back now, if we go back to the bad ways of more spending, more debt, if we listen to the people who got us into this mess in the first place, we could go right back to the start and really threaten the economic recovery that is now under way in Britain.”
Mr Cameron said Labour’s unwillingness to make the necessary cuts would mean the country would have to find an additional £13.5 billion in debt interest payments over the course of the next parliament.
“People know if you don’t do that, that is when you get real poverty. Look what happened in countries like Portugal and Greece that saw their debts and their deficits go out of control. They had to cut their NHS by 16%, 17%,” he said.