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….