SOONER or later, voters in Twickenham and beyond will notice a difference between what Vince Cable says and what he does.

After three years of austerity, the routine has become familiar. First the Business Secretary is opposed to everything those terrible Tories can devise. Then he accepts the lot.

Cast your mind back to 2010, meanwhile, and you can probably recall one of the first of the Liberal Democrat excuses for coalition. They had made this compact, so they said, in order to exercise "restraint" over their Conservative partners. How has that worked out, exactly? Nick Clegg has done a lot of apologising, but the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales has continued apace. Mr Cable has muttered repeatedly about cuts and what he sometimes calls growth, but chopped his departmental budget with the best of them. So do the LibDems agree with their strange bedmates or not?

News of impending resignations is hard to come by. That counts as one clue. Either Mr Cable and his LibDem colleagues agree with the underlying principles of Coalition economic policy, or they harbour ambitions to salvage something personally from the aftermath. Either way, it does not count as edifying.

Mr Cable has delivered up his cuts, as always, to give George Osborne another spending "review". The Treasury is very pleased. This round has passed with far less fuss than usual. Ministers, LibDems among them, could not have been more obliging. The Chancellor will today push through another £11.5bn of spending reductions and try to prevent his face from relaxing into its usual rictus.

Mr Osborne does not like to mention that Britain's public debt is rising, not falling. Since 2010, in the space of scarcely three years, his "requirement" has increased by £275bn. By any rational measure, the Coalition has failed to meet any of the targets by which it asked to be judged. Yet Mr Cable, Mr Clegg, Michael Moore, Danny Alexander and the rest act as though they have no choice in the matter.

Last week, Mr Osborne claimed that Britain is "out of intensive care". There are two ways you can leave that unhappy place. The Chancellor is pushing the trolley while chattering as though the patient is ready to sit up and take light nourishment. It simply isn't true. He has managed to do the absurd, shrinking the economy while growing our debts and our borrowings.

He will look very stern today, no doubt. If past experience is anything to go by, what he will fail to do is explain that he has not even made half the cuts that he intends to make, that his hopes for recovery have been pushed back to the 2020s, that what he calls infrastructure investment – just £3 billion, even on paper – will be paid for when he goes after pensioners. Bear it in mind: this was one of the things that the Tories promised, and promised explicitly, not to do.

Mr Osborne has cut departmental spending by 8.9% thus far. His aim is to reduce the figure by 18.4% by 2017. So have the books begun to balance? Have tax receipts increased? Is growth any better than a statistically insignificant fraction of a percentage point? In which flat-earth version of reality can any of this be deemed to be working?

When the banks began to fall over, an entire pseudo-science was exposed. There was no dubiety in the matter, no burden of proof left to be resolved. The economists could not even explain how, when or why their entire field of study had crumbled like cheap cement. But too many people, politicians not least, depend on this voodoo. So Mr Osborne behaves as though nothing fundamental was altered. What's fascinating is that an entire political class has joined his faction.

The LibDems have no arguments to offer. Mr Cable will lecture anyone, anywhere, so it appears, on the principles of economic virtue. In office, he grumbles that higher education requires investment, but hands over another billion to keep the Coalition's hopes for re-election alive. Mere expediency would be excusable. Mr Cable is complicit in actual harm while pretending – and the pretence has grown thin indeed – to dissent.

But then, what would Labour do? The question barely counts as rhetorical. The two Eds – scarcely better than none – would keep all the cuts, pick the same victims, pursue the same spurious targets, and keep a jalopy of an economy rattling down the same old road. Ed Balls might borrow just a little more if an opinion poll doesn't tell him otherwise.

In effect, the UK has another national government of like-minded types to preside over another generation-defining slump. Mr Osborne, of all people, has won the argument with not a shred of empirical evidence to support his case. The LibDems are morally and intellectually redundant. Labour is vacuous. And we call it democracy.

This is not another sermon on alternatives. Nevertheless, Mr Osborne will today give a couple of hints as to what can be expected if we remain together, for better or worse, in the winter of 2014. The rump of the UK is promising precious little for the years ahead. The Chancellor has plenty more where today's little lot came from. He wants you to know that things will only get worse. Bear it in mind.

But consider something else, meanwhile. The collapse of international finance was practical, symbolic and intellectual. We all got hurt, one way or another. We were all given reasons to think about the world we had made, the world we allowed. In a society that claims to be founded on consent, we were entitled to believe that a few of those paid to govern would come up with explanations to match their promises.

Instead, we hear that someone might, just possibly, go to jail at some future date if they happen, just possibly, to run a bank in a reckless manner. No mention of the laws governing fraud, far less trading while insolvent. I'd even settle for the old offence of "uttering". What's difficult to tolerate is the Osborne position.

Your debt and my debt did not bring a country to the edge of collapse. Your winter fuel allowance – the one you worked for and paid for – did not make a society "unaffordable". You didn't vote for wholesale tax avoidance. The Chancellor says, nevertheless, that you have to pay. Those who call themselves Mr Osborne's opponents simply agree.

As insults to our collective intelligence go, that's big. The Chancellor will conduct his review, nevertheless, without facing a significant challenge. The basis for a policy that has both failed and made matters worse will receive no rebuttal. The mayhem will continue. The wounds will go deeper still.

You have to pause, then, and ask yourself why policies that have failed for three long years cause barely a whisper of argument in Westminster. The only sensible inference, surely, is that what looks like failure to some is a very satisfactory state of affairs to others.

But Mr Osborne, one way or another, is just getting started. The sole difference for Scots in the 21st century is that his is an offer that can be refused. Bargepoles might be handy. Mr Cable need not be consulted.