NEW POLL: Is Nick Clegg right to talk about the need for “savage” cuts?

For once, the media reporting of what party activists at conference are discussing is accurate – Nick Clegg’s decision to question the affordability of the Lib Dems’ long-held policy of abolishiong university tuition fees, and his talk of the need for the party to be “quite bold, or even savage, on current spending” is the talk of the town.

The Financial Times today quotes some high-level criticism of Nick’s approach:

One MP said Mr Clegg sounded “nastier than the Tories” and that he was “salivating” over the chance to cut the state. Others complained that Mr Clegg and Vince Cable, Treasury spokesman, had “bounced” the party into a hair-shirt strategy.

Charles Kennedy, a former leader, criticised the decision to shelve the party’s cherished plan to scrap university tuition fees and Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West, gave warning that the leadership did “not always get its way”.

“People don’t get out of bed and campaign for gloom,” said one MP, pointing out that the cuts strategy had not been agreed by the party’s frontbench team. “We aren’t setting out what the sunny uplands look like on the other side.”

However, Nick has this morning largely defended his stance, telling listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme:

People, of course, can use softer language if they want but that’s not going to make the problem go away. We need to make significant, big cuts in public spending if we are not only to fix the great black hole in the public finances but also to carry on doing things we want to do as a society.”

“I’ve used the word savage and I think it’s right to be clear about the enormity of the problem, but it’s cuts for purpose. The purpose is fairness, the purpose is making sure the no-one in this country pays a penny of income tax on your first £10,000.”

I can see where Nick is coming from – part of the Lib Dems’ brand is that we are the party which is prepared to be honest, while the other two main parties happily conceal from voters their real intentions. It’s also the case that Nick has the responsibility that comes with leadership of trying to reach out to non-Lib Dems, rather than simply to please the hard core of party members who troop to seaside conferences.

Yet I cannot see how the talk of “savage” cuts is helpful – quite simply, it’s not the language of Lib Dems. Just as importantly, it’s not backed up by policy proposals. Even Vince Cable has so far come up with some £14 billion of potential savings, while estimating that a total of £112 billion will be needed over the course of the next Parliament.

In reality, it will almost certainly require a combination of spending cuts and tax rises even to prevent the UK’s ballooning deficit from getting more gargantuan still. We don’t need “savage” spending cuts any more than we need ‘steep’ tax rises (except perhaps on the very wealthiest who currently evade many of the taxes which hit the poorest hardest).

The Lib Dem message is clear enough: Labour can’t be trusted to spend wisely; the Tories can’t be trusted to cut wisely – only the Lib Dems’ approach can ensure the right balance is struck between tax and spend, and in Vince Cable we have just the man for the job. I’d much rather Nick was sticking to that clear, disciplined message than getting carried away with his own rhetoric.

Anyway, that’s my view – what’s yours? Here’s the new LDV poll question: Do you think Nick Clegg was right to say that the Lib Dems need to be “quite bold, or even savage, on current spending”? And here are your options:

Yes – Nick was delivering a much-needed wake-up call given the state of the national finances
No – this kind of language is unhelpful, and doesn’t reflect the Lib Dems’ fiscal policies

Over to you, LDV’s readers…

{democracy:73}
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20 Comments

  • Yes – he’s acheived exactly what he set out to acheive which seems to me to be:

    – air time: we got top billing on R4 news today and a headline in the Indy.
    – pressing the hot-buttons of the sandalistas: with quite depressing predictability the usual suspects have jumped up and down about it.

  • James Robertson 21st Sep '09 - 11:03am

    Both Yes and No. He was right to be realistic, wrong to use that kind of unnecessary language.

  • Tabman,
    So you believe that promoting internal strife and disunity by using deliberately provocative language is a good thing?

  • Savage cuts? Well the lanuage is a bit strong but I think the LibDems need to start using strong language to reachout beyond the core activist, even at the risk of upsetting the cordroy jacket/sandle eating brigade…

  • Clegg savage cuts,Cable soak the rich,Laws schools ring-fenced-Cable no areas protected from cuts,
    Clegg means-tested child benefits-Webb ‘I have rejected it’

    I know that the Lib Dems like to try to be all things to all people, but a mix of Foot / Benn,Redwood policies combined with individual MP’s making up their own policy as they go along looks what it is, a total shambles.

    With Cable’s soak the rich property tax all constituencies south of Birmingham now become marginals?

  • André Browne 21st Sep '09 - 12:58pm

    Nick Clegg has been portrayed in hte media as a ‘nice, well-meaning bloke’ fronting a ‘nice, well-meaning’ party which translates as ‘not worthy of serious consideration’. To properly address the scale of the challenge facing every developed country in the wake of the banking crisis, extreme measures will be needed. In an age of media hyperbole, it’s hard to find language appropriate to the situation. ‘Savage Cuts’ hits the spot for me. The type of readers who don’t then press on to read what the party means by ‘Savage Cuts’ are likely to find liberal democracy too nuanced a concept, unless they’re a BBC interviewer.

  • I can see what NC is about & he has a point but the word was a mistake. Savage is not the way we or our voters see us, its macho & violent.

  • @John Zims
    ‘With Cable’s soak the rich property tax all constituencies south of Birmingham now become marginals?’
    In answer to the question NO. Even South of Birmingham there are very few £1mio houses except in parts of London.
    I like Andrew don’t believe there is a need for savage cuts or in fact many cuts at all especially just as we are recovering from the recession. As a country our debt as a proportion of GDP is still less than most of competitors and as the recovery proceeds it wil shrink as the GDP increases. Certainly cut expenditure on unecessary luxuries like Trident, ID cards and other such fripperies. Spending on education should not be cut neither should our commitment to free University education both are vital to our recovery.

  • It was either a gaffe or an unbelievably stupid piece of stratagising.

    As a sample Labour leaflet:
    “Everyone agrees we need to make savings to reduce the defict. Labour is committed to protecting vital services like schools and hospitals whilst Nick Clegg says we need “savage” cuts.”

  • David Allen – there are some people who view everything the current leadership do as some sort of betrayal (no names no pack drill). Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

    And yes, I have stopped beating my wife.

  • It has had the effect of getting us noticed with those that might vote for us looking deeper into what we’re saying. It reaches out beyond core voters to the Scons, Slabs, Indies etc who realise it’s a piece of hyperbole and will look closer.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Sep '09 - 3:26pm

    It’s yet another piece of Clegg poor judgment.

    Sure, we have to be realistic that the financial situation will be difficult. That may mean cuts we’d rather not make, tax cuts we’d like to make and are not made, spending increases we’d like to make and do not make. It is absolutely right to say, for example, that state paid university tuition fees may not be number one priority – and to those who object say “OK, so what would you cut instead or what tax rise would you impose?”.

    But this has to be put in a careful way which avoids the journalists’ traps, and makes us stand clear above silly politics which treats us like children who can’t see there’s a balance in things. Language like “savage cuts” does not do this.

  • David Allen 21st Sep '09 - 4:31pm

    Matthew,

    “Sure, we have to be realistic that the financial situation will be difficult. That may mean cuts we’d rather not make”

    Yes, I’m inclined to believe this is right. And then I read the Keynesians, who say that current public debt is not excessive, and that it will recover naturally if we allow the economy to recover, and that the way to do that is to avoid savage cuts. Are the Keynesians kidding themselves, I wonder, and just believing what they want to believe? Or are they the people who have kept their nerve while everyone else is panicking?

    I wish I knew. It occurs to me that if I thought I knew, I would no doubt be making a mint of money as a financial bullsh*tter, confidently declaring my wisdom, just as the bankers and masters of the universe did until very recently. However, i’m a scientist, and in that career, when you don’t know, you’re supposed to say that you don’t know. A lousy preparation for politics!

    How might a cautious, rational scientist try to manage the economy? With cuts, yes quite likely. But savage ones? That’s the last thing we need!

    Let’s acknowledge our ignorance, try something, and see what works. Not nail all our hopes to a blind faith in a policy which is so gung-ho it amounts to a kind of extremism. That’s what the bankers did!

  • We need more Charles Kennedy and less Nick Clegg.

    Is savagery a liberal value now?

  • Oh dear – this really is turning into a mess. Maybe Clegg can redeem himself by falling into the sea or attacking the leader of Liverpool council…

  • Herbert Brown 21st Sep '09 - 11:42pm

    “Maybe Clegg can redeem himself by falling into the sea or attacking the leader of Liverpool council…”

    Or having a “Gay Wedding” photoshoot with his deputy leader? The mind boggles!

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