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Britain faces painful future whoever wins general election

Ed Balls Photo: PA Wire

Ed Balls sounded very confident today as he set out Labour's claims about their opponents' spending plans after the election.

Labour thinks the Conservatives made a strategic error last Autumn when the Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to pay off the deficit and then start running a surplus on the nation's finances before the next election in 2020.

The Conservatives admit they would have to make £30 billion of savings in order to balance the books by 2017/18.

The Lib Dems are signed up to this timetable too - although they'd get there with a mix of higher tax rises and fewer spending cuts.

But in order to reach a surplus and pay for £10 billion of promised income tax cuts, Labour today claimed that the Tory savings would take government spending (as a proportion of the size of the economy) to levels not seen since the 1930s.

And Mr Balls claimed that over the course of the whole Parliament the required savings add up to £70 billion.

Cuts, which the Shadow Chancellor claimed were 'unprecedented', 'historic' and 'ideologically driven'.

Ed Balls has warned of Osborne's 'extreme and risky cuts'. Credit: PA Wire

It would mean nearly 30,000 fewer police officers, he said, and 68,000 fewer military personnel.

Ed Balls also insisted the plans would force the closure of entire government departments, like the Foreign Office (before quickly admitting he didn't actually think the Tories would shutdown the Foreign Office and all its embassies across the world.)

The Tories pointed out today that their plans for day-to-day spending would be reduced to proportional levels the UK last experienced in 1999 and 2002 (when the Chancellor was a Labour MP called Gordon Brown).

Advisers suggest that the country did not feel then like it was on the edge of some sort of Dickensian despair.

As ever, at times like these, it's best to consult those brains at the respected and independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.

They warn of pain after the election whichever party has formed the government.

More pain under Conservatives.

Less pain under Labour.

But higher borrowing and debts to pay for the less painful approach.

And that, in a nutshell, is your choice at the next election.

Unspun: ITV News' deputy political editor Chris Ship takes an in depth look at the figures behind Ed Balls' claims: