A fresh start or a wrong turn?

Nick Clegg has given an in-depth interview to The Independent this morning which is effectively a flyer for the launch of yet another policy initiative; ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’ later today.  This document is expected to the be the basis of discussion at our Autumn conference. The first two paragraphs outline some worrying contradictions; apparently our long-standing commitment to scrap tuition fees is to go along with our commitment to free personal care for the elderly and a higher basic state pension.

I will be genuinely intrigued to see how this equates to the later promised ‘boost for education’. Furthermore, the leadership lost on tuition fees at the Federal Policy Committee so why it is now trying to revive this failed policy shift is beyond me and if we are honest a slightly desperate gambit to not get the answer you want from one body so try, try and try again.

On the face of it Clegg has a compelling point about these being times of ‘austerity’ however, it is precisely in such times that rather than taking a hatchet to things we have to be clear, firm and decisive in speaking the language of priorities.  Thus I find it distressing that, for example, abolishing tuition fees; a key policy plank for anybody committed to the idea of equality of opportunity is not so much a priority as an ‘aspiration’. If, for example, we were to decide, as Clegg should that we need no nuclear arsenal of any kind be it Trident or no this would surely save us some money which could be spent elsewhere. If, we were to withdraw from the counter-productive quagmire that is Afghanistan again surely this would save us money for our ‘aspirations’?

Clegg’s interview descends into some truly awful weasel words;

“Some of these might be retained as policies that we could not honestly place at the forefront of our manifesto because we could not honestly claim they could be delivered in the first few years of the next parliament.

I hope people will understand these are aspirations we will maintain but that, in these completely different circumstances, you can’t carry on promising the same menu of goodies. It is just not plausible.”

A manifesto is a programme of policies for five years of government during which times and policies change so in that sense it is always ‘aspirational’; anybody who is in politics understands this yet Nick seems to want us to conveniently forget it. It might well be my aspiration to land on the moon and I may well say so but that does not mean I will ever do it; in fact, I would say it is the safest bet in the world that I never will. Weaseling around things like our commitment to scrapping tuition fees (and other measures that I note hit the most vulnerable in society and precisely most likely to require assistance) does not make us aspirational but opportunist.

What is more it is a grave tactical blunder; hitting key support demographics at precisely the time we are looking to increase our support base not shrink it or alienate it. We await later with interest….

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5 responses to “A fresh start or a wrong turn?”

  1. Joe Otten says :

    Clearly you have a big pot of money in mind that Clegg doesn’t know about.

    The trouble with these key support demographics of which you speak, is that they are too smart not to have noticed the state of the public finances, and therefore wouldn’t believe (rightly) the promises you want to make.

  2. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Joe,

    In all fairness I outlined areas where I felt savings can be made. In any case it is quite clear to me that what The Independent published was not in fact what will happen but what Clegg wants to see himself will happen. As I understand it this Party is still committed to the abolition of tuition fees….

  3. Liberal Neil says :

    I think you have misunderstood the emphasis of what Nick is saying.

    In effect he is saying: “We are keeping these policies because we believe they are right but understand that the state of public finances I such that we might not be able to afford to deliver all of them immediately.”

    I think this is right.

    What would be wrong would be to change policies that we believe to be right in the longer term because of a short term financial problems.

  4. darrellgoodliffe says :

    Liberal,

    I don’t think I have. I have already answered that point effectively about the nature and character of a manifesto; being a programme for 5 years of government not something that happens the day-after-tomorrow.

    In such a light I do not feel Clegg is right at all and that most definatly the commitment to abolish tuition fees for example should be maintained as a manifesto commitment.

    On the last point I agree though.

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