Nick Clegg has issued a challenge to Labour in today’s Times. Rather than, he says, oppose every single cut the Coalition has made, Labour should be saying what they would cut to pay for their policy priorities. If Labour want benefits to rise at the rate of inflation, then they need to spell out exactly how they would pay for it.
Firstly, he talks about what the Coalition has achieved for economic growth, and how it has been pragmatic on cutting the deficit, changing its plans as the global economic circumstances changed:
Here in the UK we have now paid off around a quarter of our deficit and we must continue down that path. But there’s still a way to go, and we need to strike a careful balance. Deficit reduction is necessary but not sufficient. It alone cannot deliver growth. Sound public finances are a crucial means to the end that we all seek: a rebalanced, prosperous economy. But they must be accompanied by responsible investments that boost confidence and jobs.
So, despite our fiscal pressures, we’re cutting corporation tax; extending capital allowances; creating German-style technology centres; delivering record numbers of apprenticeships; supporting firms across the country through the Regional Growth Fund; as well as providing unprecedented Treasury guarantees for new infrastructure.
And while we’re realistic that healing the economy will take time, we’re equally determined. Our economic strategy has restored and maintained stability in the economy. Last year we saw half a million more people in work. We must now stay the course.
Of course, to be unflinching is not to be unthinking. One of the greatest lessons I have learnt in office is that sticking to a plan requires government to be flexible rather than rigid, nimble rather than unyielding. And while our critics seek to present the coalition’s economic policy as stubborn and dogmatic, the last two and a half years tell a very different story: we’ve been pragmatic throughout. That’s what governing from the centre ground is all about.
He then goes on to take Labour to task. There’s a slight change from the language he’s used before, when he pointed out that Labour would have cut £7 for every £8 the Coalition has cut, which was an effective line – possibly more effective than the one he uses about the proportion of public spending to GDP.
The Labour leadership continue to complain about the coalition’s approach, but without providing any credible alternative. They’re learning the tricks of opposition and finding their rhetorical refrains. But where are the numbers? What are their sums? The country has undergone the biggest economic crisis in living memory, yet they offer no explanation of how they’d get us out of this mess, nor any admission of responsibility for their part in creating it.
Labour admit they wouldn’t reverse every coalition cut. They should tell us which they would keep, which they would lose and where they would find the money instead. They say they’ll vote against limiting the planned rise in benefits to 1 per cent. That means they believe welfare claimants should see a bigger rise than the 1 per cent that public sector workers will get on their wages — which they support. So Labour must show how they’d pay for it. Would they cut hospital budgets? Schools? Defence?
To oppose everything is to offer nothing, and the country will not be duped. The biggest divide in politics today — here and around the world — is between those who offer leadership and those who only offer dissent.
The article ends with those words we will get used to hearing a lot – “building a stronger economy in a fairer society”. You can read the whole thing here if you have a Times subscription.