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January 13, 2004


David Duff

Sorry for the diversion, Oliver, but I can't resist quoting a piece of prime frivolity from the excellent "Eats Shoots and Leaves" by the witty and erudite Lynne Truss on the subject of hyphens and their uses and mis-uses:

"Interestingly, Kingsley Amis says that those who smugly object to the hyphenation of the phrase 'fine tooth-comb' are quite wrong to assert the phrase ought really to be punctuated 'fine-tooth comb'. Evidently there really used to be a kind of comb called a tooth-comb, and you could buy it in varieties of fineness. Isn't it a relief to know that? You learn something new every day."

Quite so and now, back to the serious stuff.
David Duff


As just about the only blogger who does research you deserve much credit Oliver. But did you not take the opportunity to ask the IFS whether they were happy with Lib Dem speeches on the subject?

Andrew Duffin

"...a willingness to consider significant measures of withdrawal from the provision of state services"

I wouldn't necessarily take that as proof that the Conservatives hadn't given enought thought to the likely outcomes of their aspirations.

I would hope that they HAD given it thought, and had decided that a willingness to consider etc etc (and perhaps do more than just consider) was actually a GOOD outcome.

Or are you suggesting that every single thing currently done by the State must continue to be done by the State, and could not be done cheaper and simpler by someone else, or simply left undone?


Andrew the point is that they didn't explicitly say in the election campaign that they were willing to consider such cuts.

Oliver Kamm

Matthew - You anticipate me. In my email exchange with the IFS I was concerned just to establish the facts of the case. Having done so and found them surprising, I sent a letter to the IFS - which seemed to me the proper mode of communication when providing documentation - containing the information in this post and a further instance of Holmes's making the same claim (this time in Select Committee, which is a more serious matter than doing so at the Cambridge Union), and putting the question you raise. I have sent a copy of the letter to Charles Kennedy.

While politicians do spin research findings to their advantage, Kennedy's remarks are perplexing because so clearly at variance with the facts (and indeed with each other). I therefore initially assumed that he was referring to some other IFS work, real or imagined. But that doesn't appear to be the case: I specifically asked the IFS what Kennedy was referring to, and the IFS believed that it was their election coverage he was talking about. Moreover Kennedy's new year message confirms that what he had only two days previously depicted as an annual assessment undertaken on the initiative of the Lib Dems was in fact the regular analysis of the IFS undertaken before general elections.

Fortunately Paul Holmes's remarks are explicit on this point, and equally clearly do not give an accurate account of the IFS's conclusions.

Thank you for your kind observation.

Andrew - No, I'm not making the suggestion you speculate I might be making, or indeed one contradicting it, or at least not in this post. I'm pointing to the IFS's judgement that, "In the long run, a desire to reduce taxes must, if it is to be achieved, be matched by a willingness to identify reductions in the scale of public services." Because the Conservatives did not display such a willingness, let alone actually do the identification required, or at least not in their manifesto, I drew the inference from the IFS's analysis (though I stress that this is my own judgement and not the IFS's) that the Conservative programme was not a credible one.

David Duff

And I would like to add that if the Tories claim they will cut taxes on the basis of 'making savings in the bureaucracy' they will, yet again, fail to get my vote because that is pure bull! They will only ever convince me when and if they point to a series of programmes or services and promise to either cut them or sell them.
David Duff


Oliver, you "undertook to leave the subject of the Liberal Democrats", but can you resist this?


I can't resist entering the fine-tooth debate. James Cochrane in his book 'Between you and I' prefers 'fine-toothed comb', one capable, metarphorically, of thorough sifting of searching.


I appreciate that it is nowhere nearly as serious a matter to (mislead or) lie to a Select Committee as it is to (mislead or) lie to the Cambridge Union; nevertheless it may be harder to convince the audience of the Union than it is a Select Committee. When he delivered this speech the hostile reaction showed that the audience, fortunately, took it with a pinch of salt.

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