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I know that we were not in the same position as Greece. I was not talking about what the Greeks and the eurozone needed to do; I was talking about what we needed to do, and the advice that we received.
There is an evidence base to look at. It is true that, as the shadow Chancellor said in his speech, the cost of borrowing in terms of bond yields was starting to fall under the last Government. That is because markets are driven by expectations, and they expected a change of Government. Since the election, however, and since this action was taken and announced, the cost to the United Kingdom of borrowing, in terms of bond yields, has fallen by 20 basis points. In Greece it has risen by 170 basis points, or 2% in ordinary language. It has risen by 94 points in Ireland, by 95 in Portugal, and by 65 in Spain. Spain is a serious, big country: we are not talking about tiny, peripheral economies. It is a serious country, which was caught up in the financial firestorm that we have had to head off from here. That was the basis on which we made decisions.
Let me now develop that immediate question into the broader issue of the Chancellor's Budget and the magnitude of the task that we had to undertake. There is, of course, a difference between the problem of the deficit and the problem of the debt. There is a public debt problem, which is growing rapidly, but as the Chancellor has pointed out and as I have often pointed out myself, it is not greatly out of line with what is happening in many other countries, or with what has happened historically. The real problem for the United Kingdom is the massive level of public borrowing. That is why markets are important. The deficit in the last financial year was 11% of GDP; in the current financial year, it is 10.5% of GDP. That money-£155 billion-must be borrowed. My views on that, on how it should be dealt with, and on the kind of radicalism that is needed had nothing to do with the formation of the coalition. My views were set out a year ago, when I wrote a pamphlet which did, indeed, bear a strong resemblance to what the Chancellor produced yesterday in terms of scale, scope and speed.
Let me tell the shadow Chancellor why I feel strongly about the need to act in such a decisive way in terms of fiscal policy. There are two reasons. First, I saw the disaster unfolding under the last Government, when they were overtaken by a major financial crisis for which they were not prepared and to which they had massively contributed. Of course there is a global problem-we know that-but its impact has been much more serious in this country than elsewhere. That is because the Government allowed household debt, in relation to income, to rise to the highest level in the developed world; because they acted and planned on the assumption that house prices rise for ever, although we know from the evidence that they go up and down roughly every 17 or 18 years, as they have done for the last 300 years; and because they created, encouraged and fostered an almost Icelandic dependence on major international banks, the combined magnitude of whose balance sheets represented 400% of our economy.
The Government allowed that to happen. Some of us warned about the dangers, and they took no notice: they said that we were scaremongering. But the crisis hit them, and, having experienced it once, we on this side of the House are determined that such a financial crisis should not happen again as a result of sovereign risk. That is why we are decisive, and why we feel that we need to act.
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