I was interviewed twice on the radio on Friday evening to discuss John McDonnell’s new fiscal rule
, once on LBC and the other on Radio 5. In both cases the interviewers were quite explicit in stating that it was known that Labour always borrowed more than the Conservatives and that was why the electorate could not trust them with the economy. I knew that evidence I had prepared a year ago
did not support that view in recent years (post 1997) but I decided to see if this claim really had any substance to it all at all. This blog is about my findings. There is a note on data sources at the end.
The first task was to secure data on borrowing by year from 1946/47 onwards: this data covers a 70 year period. Labour was in office for 28 of these years and the Conservatives for 42.
The next task was very simple: I calculated the total net borrowing in Labour and Conservative years and averaged them by the number of years in office. All figures are stated billions of pounds in all the tables that follow and in this case are in original values i.e. in the prices of the periods when they actually occurred:
The Conservatives borrowed more, not just absolutely (which is unsurprising as they had more years in office), but on average.
This though, is a bit unfair: the value of money changes over time. So I restated all borrowing in 2014 prices to eliminate the bias this gives rise to. This resulted in the following table:
In current prices the Conservatives still borrowed more (much more) overall, and on average, by a long way.