FOR five years we’ve been told Britain’s flat broke.
The idea’s been hammered into us at every available opportunity to the point where it’s now considered an accepted truth.
In fact, it’s heresy to suggest anything different.
The Tory message is that we’ve got to keep cutting. And despite pleading their differences, the other parties are singing from the same hymn sheet.
Ok, Ed Miliband says he wouldn’t do it quite so quickly, Nick Clegg promises he’d do it with a bit more compassion and Nigel Farage would do it by getting us out of Europe.
But essentially they’re all saying the same thing: the state needs to shrink.
If you’re earning a fortune, send your kids to private school and don’t have to rely on the NHS, you’re probably not all that bothered by this.
But that doesn’t apply to most people. We rely on stuff like hospitals, GP surgeries and decent schools – and don’t want to see them being starved of much-needed funds.
The trouble is, we’re not being given any choice in the matter.
Austerity has been the byword in British politics for the last five years and it looks destined to stay that way for at least the next five – regardless of which party collects the most votes on May 7.
So when someone stands up and says, actually we don’t need any of this, that austerity is doing more harm than good, then people are going to sit up and take notice.
That’s exactly what Nicola Sturgeon did in the leaders’ TV debate – and why a party that was being demonised just a few months ago is, incredibly, winning over chunks of the English public.
Of course, living south of Berwick-upon-Tweed means we can’t vote for the SNP – and chances are we wouldn’t want to anyway.
It’s clear that Sturgeon and the Scottish nationalists’ endgame is to break up the union.
Having said that last year’s referendum vote was a “once in a generation” event, Sturgeon has let slip that there could be another vote in a couple of years.
But it’s her anti-austerity message that’s most compelling – for the simple reason that we desperately want to believe there’s another way. That we don’t have to keep cutting, cutting, cutting.
Of course there’s one crucial difference between Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Miliband and David Cameron.
We can’t vote for her to become Prime Minister and she’s not even standing for election to Westminster.
It’s the equivalent of armchair football fans who pick their dream teams knowing they’ll never have grind out a result. It’s a free pass.
And the truth is no one truly knows if rolling back austerity would work. It’s a massive gamble. But could it be one worth taking?
They certainly think so in Greece, where the anti-austerity Syriza party charged to power two months ago on the promise of reversing the cuts forced on it by the EU. But the Greeks are hampered by the fact that they can’t pay off their debts without the bailout. It means the anti-austerity crusade there is likely to fizzle out.
And as far as the SNP go, it’s not as if they’ve got a great record when it comes to financial planning.
Remember how they were going to bankroll an independent Scotland on the back of North Sea oil revenue?
Given how far the price of oil has dropped over the last few months it’s a good job there wasn’t a Yes vote. Scotland would be on its knees.
But nevertheless, Nicola Sturgeon has raised a question that’s lurking at the back of many people’s minds.
Do we still need austerity? Or is the fallout from the last recession now being used as an excuse to drive home the Tories’ ideological pursuit of a shrunken-down state?
That question – and the fact too many still feel excluded from the fruits of the Tories’ long-term economic plan – is the reason why David Cameron still can’t pull clear in the polls.