Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Friday, 7 May 2010 12:02 UK

The best graph of the election

Counting ballot papers

Michael Blastland
Different ways of seeing stats

The voters have spoken. Now it seems the parties must talk. In his weekly column Michael Blastland asks if the stats suggest this might be easier than it sounds.

Can the parties agree? They already do. Well, nearly. With the election over, the haggling is well under way.

That's why my nomination for the best graph of the election - and its aftermath - is from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, for placing sound and fury in the fridge. This is the time for cool heads.

Compare tax and spend plans of the three main parties

We see differences on which - if we believe the rhetoric - the whole shebang depends: the health of the economy, the bond markets, and all our favourite abstract nouns - fairness, change, prosperity, etc.

But squeeze a maxed-out credit card between these lines, relative to past variability, if you can. The differences - for the next seven years, no less - turn out to be rather smaller than New Labour managed all on its own. The party varied levels of tax or spend - not always up - far more than the parties now say makes all the difference.

Detail of party plans

Here's another view of the IFS data on tax to bring out the point, in which we've expanded the scale to dramatise the differences between the parties' plans.

Drama, anyone? Bear in mind that all three planned levels are below the lowest achieved when Margaret Thatcher was in office (39.4 in her last full year, 1989-90; falling to 38.4 the year after).

The IFS graph also puts plans for the deficit in context. This is the gap between one party's plans for tax and the same party's plans for spending, a gap of equal size for all three, with only a small squabble about timing the pain.

So big problems do not make for big differences. Mind you, if this is all there is in it, how hard would it be to compromise in a hung parliament?

Then all they have to do is agree about all the other policies.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It's all very well saying they are going to tax the same and spend the same but who will they be taxing and who will they be spending the money on. Tax the poor spend on the big business or tax the rich and spend on the ones who need financial assistance?
Edd, Cardiff

Actually Edd, the choice is between taxing more and spending more and taxing less and spending less - it is the gap that is the same size. I am part or of very small company but I still recognise that the country as a whole must survive otherwise what you call "the rich" (or I would class as the people who are prepared to take risks) won't be there to support anyone. Or put it another way, do you want life to be fair, or equal?
Tim Jackson, Norwich

All of the party projections still show more spending than taxation even after eight years. This means that the debt will still be growing. Surely we should be aiming for taxation to rise above spending so that we can pay off the colossal debt that Labour have built up?
Sam, Bolton

How much of the deficit is down to money spent on rescuing banks and money not coming in from banks in various forms of taxation? The return of banks to profit is likely to start making a difference in the next year or two.
Chris, Rochester, Kent

There is a great deal of difference between increasing the overall tax bill while at the same time reducing inheritance tax, or spending more on employment benefits thanks to public sector redundancies, and placing a higher rate of tax on the richest 10% or spending more to retain employment (and thus consumption) in the public sector.
Andy, Truro

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