by Martin Odoni

Predictably irritating, but necessary.

As I write this the ITV Leaders’ Debate has recently concluded, and it was annoyingly crammed with one-hundred-and-eighty-degree reversals of the facts, especially from David Cameron, and with economic fallacies by everyone. Nick Clegg in particular was spectacular in his economic illiteracy, using two of the worst clichés of the subject; “leaving debts for future generations to pay”, and comparing the National Debt to a “maxed-out credit card”. Ed Miliband, still hampered by a speaking voice that lacks power, came through with some credit, but not enough, you feel, to swing many voters. Natalie Bennett started very well for the Greens, indeed she arguably won the first half of the debate with her best TV performance to date, but she did seem to tire somewhat and fade into the background in the second half. Leanne Wood perhaps came across as a bit too Wales-centric, probably inadvertently, but she deserves great credit for the best-delivered closing statement of the night. Nicola Sturgeon clearly did the Scottish National Party’s hopes a bit of good with a very strong performance, although she was being very hypocritical on the subject of education, given her party’s long-running butchery of college places north of the border. As for Nigel Farage, TV pictures did him no favours with him looking sweaty and flustered throughout, but as ever, he came across as smug and callous, with his ill-judged remarks about HIV-sufferers bound to alienate more people than they will attract. (On that subject, his argument was not only scaremongering, it was also back-to-front. Surely it is a good thing that people suffering HIV/AIDS are brought into a country where effective treatments are available? It is one of the best methods of containing, controlling, and studying the epidemic, which will therefore be of benefit to everybody, including the British. He just never thinks things through, numpty-Nige, does he?)

But David Cameron’s overall performance… well, dear oh dear, he was just awful. Veering between mechanically-rehearsed soundbites and jumpy protestation, you could tell from the opening seconds that he wanted to be elsewhere. His down-the-nose tone when discussing opponents was off-putting, his denials of plain reality made him seem unsettlingly deluded, and some of his logic sounded like the dog following the tail. His use of the term, “we’ve brought the country back from the brink” was self-aggrandising, without ever establishing what it was that we were “back from the brink” of. (No. Not bankruptcy, that was never going to happen and it never will.)

Especially ridiculous – and to be fair Clegg was just as guilty of this – was Cameron’s idea that we need to build up a strong economy before we can have a strong health service. This is like saying we have to have sturdy branches before we can have a healthy tree-trunk; a strong economy depends before all else on a healthy workforce that can thus perform its work to the best of its potential. Waiting for the economy to be strong before investing in the NHS is akin to telling a hungry builder to get the houses built first, and he will only be fed afterwards. He just will not be able to do a good job of constructing a house when he is dizzy with gnawing hunger. Equally, a workforce full of sick people will not be able to build a strong economy until their illnesses are treated.

But for me, Cameron’s really major failure in the debate was one that went almost unnoticed, when he let slip some exceptionally bad arithmetic that draws attention to the dirtiest trick of which his Government has been guilty. He claimed, with complete dishonesty, that the Government has created ‘two million new jobs’ in the last Parliament, before adding that he planned to create ‘two million more new jobs’ over the next five years.

Another two million jobs? Really? That’s strange.

Post-Credit Crunch unemployment peaked at around two-point-seven million in 2011, and is now officially down to zero-point-eight million (though only by the underhanded decision to count just the people receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance instead of all people who are out of work and looking for a job).

Two million new jobs for zero-point-eight million people? Are most of these new jobs going to be part-time work so new workers can ‘double up’ or something? That sounds too impractical to believe.

The funny thing is, if we look at the current real unemployment figures i.e. the ones that are arrived at by the pre-Coalition calculation (which admittedly had inherited misleading spin of their own from the 1980’s), we find the number of people out of work and looking for a job is a little under… oh! Two million!

The unemployment figures from the Office Of National Statistics

This graph shows the real-terms unemployment figures since 1991. The blue line offering the JSA recipient figures only is the one being falsely spun by the Government as the total unemployed.

Coincidence that the number of new jobs hoped for will happen to be roughly the same as the real number of people who are currently unemployed? Coincidence, my foot. It was a very careless lapse by a Prime Minister who, over the last two months, seems to have been suffering from growing deceit-fatigue. Never mind the drawback that Cameron has still offered no clear explanation for how he plans to create two million jobs anyway. Coming from a party that traditionally rejects the idea of Government creating jobs in the first place, it is an explanation that he should have offered this evening.

His failure to do so will leave a lot of people thinking, “Another pie-in-the-sky promise”. The number of them we have had down the years is unhealthy for democracy, but then democracy is not something that Cameron has ever had much time for. If he had, he would never have tried to wriggle out of the debate to begin with.

For the dignity of the evening, it might have been better had he done so.