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FactCheck: jobs, fuel and spending

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 12 November 2008

Gordon Brown took prime minister's questions on a day of grim economic news, but did his answers pass the FactCheck test?

The claim

"We have created three million jobs in the last 10 years."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister's Questions, 12 November 2008

The analysis

Well, it's more like 2.5 million in the last 10 years, but closer enough to three million since Labour came to power.

Figures released today showed the number of people in employment is up by 134,000 over the past year, although it's down by 99,000 over the quarter. Which brings us on to...

The claim

"Even with the rise in unemployment, unemployment is lower than the three million unemployed under the Conservatives."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister's Questions, 12 November 2008

The analysis

Unemployment in the UK - as of September, according to figures released today - has reached 1.825 million.

This is based on 16-year-olds and over of working age who say they would like to work - it doesn't include those who choose to opt out of the labour market, such as full-time parents or students. It's a different - and higher - measure than simply those who are on the dole (the claimant count), which has also risen.

When Labour came to power unemployment was just over two million; it reached its lowest under the party, 1.392 million, in the three months up to October 2004. However, it's recently been rising sharply, up by 182,000 over the past year, and more job losses have been announced since the latest figures were collected.

Unemployment hit its highest (since comparable records began in 1971) in the quarter up to May 1984, when unemployment peaked at 3.278 million. It also pushed above three million under John Major, in early 1993.

It's true that we're nowhere near the psychologically catastrophic three million unemployed under the Tories, although the psychologically important two million mark looks far closer.

The sources
Office of National Statistics: labour market statistics

The claim

"If we'd listened to Liberal party advice we'd be cutting public expenditure by £20bn this year."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister's Questions, 12 November 2008

The analysis

The Lib Dem tax and spending policy is too convoluted to sit neatly in sound-bite territory, but Brown only tells half the story.

A policy document adopted at Lib Dem conference this autumn paved the way for spending cuts. The party reckons the government wastes £20bn on what it considers white elephants -the likes of as ID cards and child trust funds.

However, the party also plans to redirect at least some of the cash to areas it reckons need more money, such as education and social care.

The party has promised tax cuts elsewhere - such as 4p off income tax, made up for by increased taxes on higher earners and polluters - and if not all of the £20bn were needed for the party's priority spending areas, some of it would be given back in the form of deeper tax cuts.

So Clegg leaves the door open for public spending cuts, though not £20bn worth. This open door can be an open goal both for those who believe in cutting public spending and those who - like the PM - support increased spending to combat the economic downturn.

So although it's not - arguably - the most politically sensible move for the Lib Dems to leave this grey area for attack in their policy, it's doesn't mean the PM can keep misrepresenting it. Not without FactCheck raising an eyebrow, at least.

FactCheck: Lib Dem tax plans

The claim

"The fuel duty stabiliser would mean that petrol, which is 97p a litre today, would have to rise 5p. Oh yes... oh yes! Five pence extra a litre - that is the Conservative policy."
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister's Questions, 12 November 2008

The analysis

The Conservative front bench look incredulous. It's another misrepresentation of opposition policy - or is it?

The fair fuel stabiliser, which FactCheck has pored over in detail here, works by cutting fuel duty when the oil price goes up and increasing fuel duty when the oil price goes down.

The idea is to reduce - though not stop - fluctuations in the price of petrol at the pumps.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne announced the plan to great fanfare in the summer, back when a barrel of oil was well over $100, on the basis that petrol would be 5p a litre cheaper if the Tory plans had been implemented at the last budget.

The Tories take the budget forecast - $84 a barrel - as a benchmark. When they announced their policy, they claimed an increase of about $30 a barrel had led to a 10p a litre petrol price rise; the fair fuel stabiliser would reduce this to a 5p increase.

Now, however, the oil price has swung back down to around $55 a barrel - a $30 difference the other way. So it's not unreasonable of Brown to call the Tory policy as being a 5p rise in fuel duty in these circumstances.

The Tories pointed out to FactCheck previously that the policy is currently under consultation - they haven't yet specified at exactly what level the stabiliser should be set.

But given that they originally briefed the policy as leading to a 5p petrol price cut, and that the oil price pendulum has now dipped the other way, Brown's claim does not seem unreasonable under the circumstances.

The sources
Conservatives: a fair fuel stabiliser (.pdf)

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