The IFS are distinctly unimpressed by the parties' fiscal plans. Robert Chote said in his opening remarks at their election briefing:
Repairing the public finances will be the defining domestic policy task of the next government. For the voters to be able to make an informed choice in this election, the parties need to explain clearly how they would go about achieving it. Unfortunately, they have not. The opposition parties have not even set out their fiscal targets clearly. And all three are particularly vague on their plans for public spending. The blame for that lies primarily with the Government for refusing to hold a Spending Review before the election.
None of the parties have done much to identify potential spending cuts, there isn't a lot to choose between them for those interested in the vital issue of how we deal with the mushrooming national debt. The Lib Dems have identified the most at £12 billion of cuts by 2014-15, but that still leaves nearly three quarters of the spending cuts they would make till after the election. The Conservatives have identified £11.3 billion but they need to find more in order to afford not pushing up National Insurance to the extent the Government are planning. Labour and the Conservatives need to find more in the unprotected departments as they have pledged to protect certain services like health and education.
What the IFS excludes is efficiency savings, as promised by Labour and - on a slightly bigger scale and more rapidly - the Conservatives. They leave those savings out on the grounds that if they are possible they will be made whichever party is in government. If you change that assumption, and think the efficiencies outlined by Labour or the Conservatives are plausible and count in their favour, then those figures will change a bit but the parties will still only have found a fraction of the savings needed.
The politicians' failure to be open with the electorate about what is coming is clearly infuriating commentators. You can see that in the quote from Robert Chote at the start of this blog, in Martin Wolf's warning that if "politicians treat voters like children, the voters will throw tantrums when cuts come" and particularly in this exchange between Lord Mandelson and Sky Political Editor Adam Boulton:
It is understandable that Adam Boulton is angry. For politicians to lecture journalists on not covering policy enough when none of the parties are setting out how they are going to deal with the biggest issue of the next decade is a bit rich.
If the parties are looking for ideas, we've set out £50 billion of potential cuts in a report with the Institute of Directors updated for the new book.