What matters is the rate of change. The Labour Government were borrowing too much at a time when the economy was overheating and collecting a lot of tax revenue, and we have been trying to right that mistake ever since.
I think it would be helpful if, in this Parliament, we could have a more grown-up discussion about public spending and tax revenues than we were allowed in the last Parliament, because the meaning of austerity has shifted. It now has a narrower definition than the disaster that hit living standards and individual families in 2008. To the so-called progressive parties, austerity now means not increasing public spending as quickly as they think that it should be increased.
Let me remind the House what successive Red Books—Budget books—have told us about what happened between 2010 and 2015, and what they tell us will happen between 2015 and 2020, subject to the Chancellor’s Budget. It is very easy to remember. Between 2010 and 2015, the coalition Government increased total public spending by £1,000 per person per year, if the final year of those five years is compared with the starting point. The recently elected Conservative Government plan to do exactly the same: they wish to increase total public spending per head by £1,000 per person a year by the end of the current Parliament. That is not a huge rate of growth, but it is not an overall decline or a cut.
Because we inherited such an enormous deficit and could not continue to borrow on such a scale, we were—as a result of VAT increases and the general increase in revenue from some economic growth—charging people £2,000 a head more per year at the end of the last Parliament than the Labour Government did in their last year. This Parliament requires exactly the same increase, without any rate rises but coming from faster growth in the economy. The Red Book’s aim is that we should charge everyone £2,000 extra a year by the end of the Parliament than at the beginning. I think that that is a measured and sensible proposal to rescue us from enormous borrowing and a big debt hole, and I think it can work. I especially welcome the fact that, this time, it will require no tax rises.