A WEEK from now we’ll know the composition of the new House of Commons. With a voting system that pushes many people toward the frontrunners in their constituency, it was always going to be a tough election for the Greens. But then, in Scotland, it looks like being an even tougher election for Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.

No matter how tediously uniform the Scottish opinion polls look to those of us not voting SNP there remains great uncertainty about the wider result. The nature of the government that’s formed in London will have a huge impact throughout these islands.

Most of the UK’s political landscape remains in the grip of an irrational obsession that has become so powerful that, just like the crowd pretending not to see Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor in his nakedness, many people worry that their common sense must be wrong and they shouldn’t speak out for fear of looking foolish.

In today’s story, the Emperor’s suit is an economic policy called austerity. Many of those who have seen it for the delusion it is have been ridiculed by the dominant media, which instead congratulates those who compete to show their commitment to it.

The simplistic arguments have been made so often that they have come to sound like accepted truth.

“There’s no money left.” As though a national exchequer is a sort of piggy bank, with a fixed number of coins rattling around inside and once the sweeties are bought the cash is gone. In reality of course a government that has its own central bank and its own currency can make its own choices about money supply; as indeed it did, creating hundreds of billions of pounds of new money without creating new debt. It failed of course to direct that supply of new money into the real economy, and instead tried to breathe life back into the economic system that had just collapsed.

“Every household knows we have to balance the books.” As though government deficits are a new vice, invented by the previous UK Government in a fit of incompetence. In reality of course a national economy is not the same as a household budget. Deficits are entirely normal, and over time governments can run a surplus or a deficit so long as the wider economic conditions allow it.

“We can’t borrow our way out of debt”. As though the public debt is the only problem we face, and simply needs to be paid down regardless of the consequences. With a longstanding problem of low productivity (and no prospect that it’s going to change any time soon) reducing the public debt can only lead to spiralling private debt, and this is of course what we see. Private debt, the money that you, your neighbours and the businesses of the country owe, already far outstrips public debt and is a far greater risk to our society.

Bizarrely, the UK’s obsession with the public debt and deficit isn’t even based on mainstream economics. It’s based on a set of assumptions that most of the world has given up on, even in the countries that flirted with austerity in the immediate wake of the market failure that led to the recession.

Conventional economic wisdom would have told us that the time to reduce your debt is when the economy is strong, not when it’s weak. If, on the other hand, you face an urgent need for investment in economic renewal and the cost of government debt is low, it’s really no bad time to borrow so long as you use it wisely. Many economists will acknowledge what few politicians in the UK admit – austerity hasn’t just been bad for people, it’s failed the economy too and will do even more harm if it continues.

So why does this irrational obsession continue? The fact is that from the point of view of the Tories and many right-wing Liberals, austerity has not been a failure because its true purpose was not to improve the economy but to slash public services and undermine the role of government for ideological purposes. In this respect, they have been appallingly successful, and it has been dismal to see how unwilling the main UK opposition party has been to take them on.

The failure of the deregulated, free-market economic system, which led to the crash, should have been an opportunity to change course.

It should have allowed us to shift this country’s politics decisively in a progressive direction.

That must remain the priority. Every voter in this election can cast themselves in the role of the child pointing at the naked Emperor and laughing. If enough of us do so, the rest of the crowd will join in and together we’ll end this dangerous delusion.