WINTER elections can have unintended consequences. Politicians start thinking they’re Santa Claus.

John McDonnell should have just gone the whole hog yesterday and put on the red suit and beard. No government in recent memory has offered such an eye-popping list of spending pledges: £150bn for schools, hospitals and housing, on top of a further £250bn for a Green Transformation Fund, all to be paid for through… borrowing.

Now, austerity needed to end – that’s a given. Who can forget the UN rapporteur on poverty’s withering critique, that in Britain “poverty is a political choice”? Austerity has had a dire impact and by boosting infrastructure spending, the UK’s worryingly low levels of productivity, as well as underinvestment in former industrial heartlands, could start to be addressed. Transformative change requires transformative amounts of cash and right now interest rates are low.

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We all want to believe in it, but there’s good reason to suspect that the numbers here have ballooned so dramatically, not because the parties have done their sums but because they are desperate to outbid each other in pursuit of votes in the Midlands and north of England. Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson are like two people at a charity auction trying to impress with their largesse. You still have to be able to pay the cashier at the end of the evening.

If we spend, spend, spend this year, isn’t there a risk we’ll have to cut, cut, cut next? Can’t historically low interest rates turn quickly into historically high ones? And aren’t we worried any more about triggering another boom-bust cycle and saddling future generations with mountainous debt?

Apparently not. Neither party puts it like that, of course. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey insists for instance that the massive cash injection will turbo-charge the economy and stimulate a great boost in tax revenues. She insists that Labour’s fiscal credibility rule of 2017 – the pledge to ensure government debt is falling within five years – still stands, hard as that may be to believe.

Luckily for Labour, the Tories have no claim whatsoever to be prudent stewards of the economy, given Johnson’s willingness to crash the UK out of the EU, which everyone knows would damage the economy. The Tories are also promising to borrow billions to fund “huge” spending plans and like Labour, they are rewriting their borrowing rules to do it.

Both parties are promising the earth and crossing their fingers that they’ll manage to pay for it somehow.

And that’s not very reassuring for uneasy voters who lack trust in both. Will these promises be delivered? Corbyn and Johnson are like touts trying to sell us tickets to the Winter Wonderland show that’s rolled into town. Come this way for the experience of a lifetime, but what’s behind the hoardings? A dazzling extravaganza, or a muddy field with one depressed reindeer and a rickety helter-skelter? The trouble is, we’ll have to buy our ticket to find out.

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If all this concerns you, then other aspects of this election so far have been downright depressing. A report on Russian interference in British democracy postponed until after the election; a minister resigning amid suggestions he knew about a former aide’s role in the collapse of a rape trial; Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrew Bridgen making insensitive comments about the Grenfell fire; moderate one-time Tories like Phillip Hammond giving up on elected politics. The Conservatives have been burnishing their reputation as the nasty party.

But it’s Labour that is facing the fight of its life. If it doesn’t go well – and the polls are not reassuring – this election could push them into the electoral wilderness, and break the two-party system on which both they and the Tories depend.

Tom Watson, Owen Smith, Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie: the roll call of non-Corbynite Labour MPs who have left the party or stood down, continues to grow.

A victory for the Corbyn project? There are those who see it that way, but in truth, it’s self-defeating. If you want to appeal to the greatest number of voters, offer them vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. The mistake of both Labour and Tory strategists has been to go all Heston Blumenthal and push niche options – the fish’n’chips sorbet of a jingoistic hard Brexit, or the mushy pea sundae of Labour’s wishy-washy Brexit policy.

For the Tories, this is limiting, but for Labour it could be deadly: the party faces a squeeze from the pro-Remain Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens, while Labour Leave voters are less loyal to Corbyn than Tory Remainers are to Johnson.

True, the Tories will face a fight with the Brexit party in many seats whereas Labour tends to be strong in different areas from its Remain rivals. But it’s not just about Europe. Corbyn also has a potentially calamitous credibility problem. Two former Labour MPs yesterday put this front and centre by branding him “unfit” to lead, the same day three Jewish newspapers warned Corbyn posed an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country”. Unless he can turn things around, then by December 13, Labour members might have come to view Corbyn as the albatross round Labour’s neck.

And all this means the small parties finally have a historic chance to make their presence felt.

With the two big parties having renounced their claims to the middle ground, the smaller parties have swept in to give Remain supporters the alternative they crave. The election pact announced yesterday between the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens means that in each of 60 seats south of the border, one party will stand as the anointed Remain candidate with the other parties stepping aside. It may not net them dozens of seats but it does allow them to impress voters with their willingness to work together (how refreshing). The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are the electoral wildcard and could make some spectacular gains, particularly at the Tories’ expense.

The British political system, sustained by first-past-the-post, has always denied voters real choice. That has become a glaring deficiency. Perhaps this will be the election that marks the beginning of the end for this creaking set-up, and sadly for Labour, it may pay the biggest price.