Nick Clegg: I’d probably relish debating Farage

We’ll be seeing a lot of Nick Clegg this week. Today was his monthly press conference, tomorrow is Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions and on Thursday, there’s the return, and first birthday of, Call Clegg.

Today he faced journalists an hour after George Osborne’s speech on future spending cuts in which he appeared to relish the prospect of removing Housing Benefit from young people. Nick was keen to point out the difference in the Liberal Democrat approach from Osborne and Labour.

On the right, you have got a Conservative party now who are driven, it seems to me, by two very clear ideological impulses. One is to remorselessly pare back the state; just keep – for ideological reasons just cut back the state. And, secondly – and that’s what they have said now – I think they are making a really big mistake in doing so – but they’ve said that the only people in society – the only section of society which will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation are the working age poor; those dependent on welfare. Now, then you’ve got on the left, you’ve got a Labour Party who want to spend more, borrow more, believe in a sort of bloated state and don’t appear to have learnt any of the lessons of the past.

In other words, you’ve got an agenda from the right which seems to believe in cuts for cuts’ sake and an agenda on the left which believes in spending for spending’s sake. You’d be unsurprised to know that I actually think where the British people want a future government – British government to be is on a liberal centre ground, where you say, yes, of course you need to finish the job of clearing the decks fiscally; of completing the job of filling the black hole – the so called structural deficit, by the financial year of 2017/2018. And to that extent the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are co-authors of fiscal responsibility and setting out that timetable and that plan.

But – here’s the big difference for the Conservatives – we don’t – we believe that the way in which you finish that job should be done, as I said earlier, fairly. And there are different ways in which you should do that. You – there is Whitehall waste in spending which you continue to bear down on; there is, of course, further welfare reform which will always be driven, in my view, by the need to sharpen the incentives to work and to always encourage people to work. And then there are – yes, there is asking people with the broader shoulders to make a contribution, and that is why I remain perplexed that the Conservatives still refuse to countenance any change in the tax system to ask people occupying very high-value properties to make small additional contribution to this effort. You have to – you have to spread the burden as fairly as possible and not only ask the working-age poor, who are dependent on welfare, to bear all the load.

That’s all for after the election but in the more immediate term, Nick appears to be trying to shame the Tories into dropping their marriage tax break. He said if they dropped it and their shares for rights project, their could be a further £140 tax cut for low and middle earners. I’m sure many activists would be interested in helping those on lower incomes.

Nick has been vocal about questioning the continuation of universal benefits like the Winter Fuel Allowance. He was asked if that was damaging as older people were most likely to vote:

No, but I really think – I actually think it does a – sorry to interrupt, I feel really strongly about it. I think it does a real disservice to older people in society to somehow pretend that the only reason they vote is for purely selfish reasons.

Older people I meet in my constituency at Sheffield, the first thing they talk about: ‘I’m worried my granddaughter can’t find a house to live in.’ ‘I’m worried that my son might lose his job.’ Older people constantly worry about what comes next, that’s one of the – that’s sort of the wisdom perhaps of growing old. And to say that somehow older people don’t care about what happens to other people in society, whether it’s the working age poor, or whether it’s the younger generation, I think is a huge misreading actually of the motives of a lot of really decent elderly people in this country.

There was an interesting question about the tv debates ahead of the next election. Nick urged David Cameron to agree the same format as last time. He also said that he didn’t mind UKIP’s Nigel Farage being part of the debate:

Look, the key thing is, is to get agreement from the three party leaders of the three main parties represented in the House of – House of Commons. Then you can have a debate – I’ve personally got no problem at all debating with Nigel Farage; I‘d probably relish it, actually. But the first thing you’ve got to do is get – you know, is get the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative party leaders agreed to do this again. I’m prepared to do it. If I understand it correctly, Ed Miliband is. I hope David Cameron will as well.

Nick also paid tribute to Guardian journalist Simon Hoggart who died yesterday:

You know, his ability to use sharp wit and humour to puncture all forms of pomposity in Westminster was legendary and I think will be long remembered very fondly too.

And he neatly sidestepped the Gove “liar” story.

I think I’d assume this was part of some cunning plan by Michael Gove’s team to distract attention from the very serious business of their spat with Baldrick. I don’t think I’m going to grace all of that with any more comment.

Later he elaborated on the war story:

I think most people think that the historians can have their debates about the precise events. Some, frankly, of the facts, you know, who was the aggressor and who wasn’t are just incontrovertible. But I think, actually, most people want, if you like a slightly more sombre and sensible reflection on what wars on that scale mean, and how we, particularly in Europe, have overcome that, and I think that’s the kind of, that’s the mood which will be reflected in the centenary. But I mean, a debate between Baldrick and Michael Gove – they’ll just have to sort it out themselves.

Finally, his top priority for the next few months? Europe, of course.

This remains the world’s largest single market; hundreds of millions of consumers on our doorstep and around over three million British workers – their jobs are in one way or another dependent on our place within it, and it would be madness, it would be economic suicide, for us to pull the rug out from under the membership – our membership of the European Union just at a time when the recovery is starting to gain a momentum.

So that’s one clear argument that my party will make, as the unambiguous party of in in British politics in the coming months.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • It’s really very important to remember, reflect on, discuss, and consider the lessons of the 1914-1918 war. But that’s a discussion that people like Mr Gove really don’t want to have; they’d rather, falsely, teach that there’s only one possible opinion, and that rather than reviewing the facts and making up their minds, children should be taught one version of events and be refused access to alternatives. Even if that version were the whole truth (which it’s not, though I don’t deny there are true elements in it) it would still be a wrong approach to teaching children. But I fear that’s the Tory concept of education all through.

  • Can we please stop harping on about this mythical “centre” ground. Be honest and accept that politics as a whole dragged almost irretrievably to the right. It’s the only way Labour managed to get elected in 97.

  • Neil – will happily disregard the centre as political territory so long as we all agree to get rid of left and right as well.

  • We have to realistically appraise where we are losing voters to. More of our lost voters are going to Labour than to the Conservatives. We should be disengaging now from the Conservatives as much as our coalition agreement permits, and looking closely at the Labour policies, and adjusting our own towards more their direction.

    Why on earth is the title of this article mentioning Farage? There are plenty of other areas that the article covers which could have been the title of this piece.

    The way I see it, say we get more or less the same number of MPs as UKIP in 2015. There is no way that Labour would go into coalition with them. They have stated that they will not go into coalition with the Conservatives if David Cameron is still the leader. What that means is that we will still be the king makers, provided that Labour and the Conservatives have about equal numbers of MPs. To make this happen, we should drift our policies in the direction of whichever of the two main parties are ahead in the polls. Makes sense?

  • Alisdair McGregor 6th Jan '14 - 10:08pm

    @ATF “will happily disregard the centre as political territory so long as we all agree to get rid of left and right as well”

    Left and right are last centuries debates – the fight for the 21st Century is Liberalism vs Authoritarianism.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Jan '14 - 10:12pm

    “Nick appears to be trying to shame the Tories into dropping their marriage tax break. He said if they dropped it and their shares for rights project, their could be a further £140 tax cut for low and middle earners. I’m sure many activists would be interested in helping those on lower incomes.”

    Yes, but how? If you have a very low paid worker who currently pays no income tax, another increase in the allowance will not help them. Even if they are living with a basic rate tax payer, the family would benefit more from Cameron’s marriage tax break than it would from the £140 tax cut Clegg is talking about.

    As for “middle earners”, I don’t think they should be the priority at all, especially those in the upper-middle bracket. The government’s figures show that households in income deciles 6, 7 and 8 are the only real gainers from government tax policy since 2010; everyone else is about the same or worse off, with the lowest three deciles all doing pretty badly. Throwing another tax cut at the middle earners might be a good idea electorally but doesn’t really tick the “fairer taxes” box.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Jan '14 - 10:47pm

    @ Joe King
    Are you sure Joe. I read Lord Ashcroft’s latest research and he argues for the Tories to win they need ‘joiners’ ,those who say that they would vote Conservative tomorrow even though they didn’t vote Conservative in 2010, two thirds of whom came from the Liberal Democrats ( although they would prefer coalition and may change their mind nearer the election).

    Maybe I have not read that correctly.

  • @ Alisdair.

    Was being a tad cheeky given that Neil seemed perfectly happy with the idea of left/right politics but the centre seemed beyond the pale 🙂

  • Left and right are political categories with history and meaning. The ‘centre’ is just a marketing term.

  • If there are only “left” and “right,” then where would you place the Liberal Democrats, Liberals, and the liberal element in Whig tradition going right back to the wars of the three kingdoms, long before the terms “left” and “right” were devised? How does one analyse a tradition whose representatives gone from being anti-monarchic revolutionaries, to rabble-rousing anti-Catholic bigots, to self-satisfied defenders of the status quo, to principled opponents of slavery and arbitrary government, to reformers of the electoral structure, to tepid reformers of illiberal laws on religion, to champions of the mercantile classes, to advocates for social welfare, to champions of individual liberty, to, now, I don’t know what. Where do you place a party that can encompass so much that is so complex, varied, and contradictory, on such a simple scale as “left-right”? Yet the Liberal Democrats inherit no less “history and meaning” than other parties.

  • Graham Evans 7th Jan '14 - 7:46am

    Left and right certainly had a historical meaning, but it is questionable whether those definitions are relevant today. Indeed you only have to look abroad to multiparty democracies abroad to realise that parties such as the Christian Democrats, which are normally characterised as being on the right, often have policies which in the UK we associate with the left. Even in the US with a two- party system like the UK some so-called right wing Republicans often share views on social and foreign affairs issues with so-called left wing Democrats.

  • Does anyone really care about the involvement of Farage in a TV election programme with Cameron, Miiband and Clegg ?
    One more white male from a public school background – what significant difference would that make ?
    For example on the important question of nuclear power generation, all four of them have exactly the same policy. They all favour the new generation of nuclear power stations whatever the cost, whatever the danger, whatever Liberal Democrats have said at the last four general elections.
    There has been a lot in the media in the last few days about flooding in Muchelney and elsewhere in Somerset. The M5 near Burnham has had to be closed more than once. For those not familiar with the map of Somerset – guess where Hinkley Point is. Think about it in terms of this from The Ecologist in 2012 :-
    ” Worryingly, the strategy states that climate change will mean that the whole area should ‘plan for a rise in sea leave of approximately one metre over the next 100 years’; in the vicinity of Hinkley Point directly, the strategy states that with existing flood defences there is a ‘1 in 20 chance of tidal flooding in any year.’ Indeed, the Somerset Levels are one of the flattest, lowest areas of the country and flood often and heavily. In 1872-3, 107 square miles were underwater from October to March.   ”

    Or you might like to google Fukushima to check on the latest lack of progress in coping with the irradiated water pouring into the ocean today.

    So who cares about a synthetic TV performance before the 2015 election? No real issues will be debated. It will either be the three stooges or the four but after the election there will still be Hinkley Point, Trident, cuts in funding for the poor, huge unregulated bonuses for bankers, the destruction of local democracy. The four party leaders are all the same and they are all to blame.

  • Sorry to quibble, but isn’t Clegg talking about “debating with” Farage, not “debating” Farage himself?

    I’m filing this along with my pet hate Americanism, to “appeal a judgment”.

    Anyway, the real headline here is that Nick Clegg is apparently an ex-Orange Booker. How else can we explain the phrase: “One is to remorselessly pare back the state; just keep – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.”

    If he really stands by this criticism of the Tories, he’s finally seen the light.

  • @ John Tilley

    How else would you assure the UK’s base load electricity supply was generated without upping carbon emissions when we can’t depend on renewable sources all the time?

    Or would you rather the lights just went out when the wind doesn’t blow?

  • RC, At last ! I have found something on which I can agree with you.
    I get irritated by the BBC imposed Americanism “appeal a judgement “.

  • RC 7th Jan ’14 – 9:15am
    In answer to your direct question, I do not start from the incorrect assumption tha we can’t depend on renewable sources all the time.
    It is entirely possible to keep the lights on without resort to the madness of nuclear, which as Ed Davey used to say is neither safe nor economic. Ed Daveu changed his mind when the ministerial car drove up to collect him, but that does not change the facts that he and all Liberal Democrats put to the voters at the last General Election.

  • andrew purches 7th Jan '14 - 10:49am

    Having listened to the aforementioned Farage on the Today programme this morning, any debate with him could well be fraught with elephant traps that Clegg could fall straight into, and not achieve anything. Farage makes many crack brained statements, but amongst them there are valid and appealing pointers to what he might push for if he ever is in a position to do so. He stated that there is more to life than purely making money , and that it may well be worth reducing our wealth as a result of cutting immigration. True or false ? Maybe true in most peoples eyes I suspect. To stop,for at least five years all immigration.Period. This would go a long way to freeing up and reducing the price and availability of homes,particularly in London and the South East. Make all immigrants meet a need, and have the qualifications to fill unplaced vacancies, with an aussie style points system. Why not? And to require all new immigrants to have there own health insurance in place to cover all medical and other eventualities. Why not? And for immigrants from the EEC not to be able to claim benefits for any direct family members left behind in their home countries. Again why not? And to make sure that a full and uncompromising referendum on E.E.C membership is held by 2017. Why not again. and so it could go on. Nick Clegg could make an answer to all these questions, but how convincing would they be to average man? Not at all,I suspect. He will have to” debate Farage” as an” ism” rather than with a person face to face. He could lose out either way.

  • @David-1 and Graham Evans
    I don’t mean to suggest that left and right are the only politically meaningful categories, or that all political issues are best understood as a struggle between left and right – for example the libertarian/authoritarian axis is equally important. Nor do i mean to suggest that these are simple categories. They are complex contested terms with a complex, contested history. What I do contend is that ‘centrism’ is meaningless. Indeed it is it’s very vacuity that makes it so attractive to those
    dedicated to the dark arts of political messaging. It says – I am moderate and reasonable (unlike my loony, eye rotating opponent) while implying no policy or political program to frighten or enrage the voter. If you disagree then I suggest you ask some voters to give you an example of a ‘centrist’ policy.

    Berlin’s dichotomy is a false one. ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ are attributes which are a function of the terms of a given description not of conceptual divergence.

  • @ John Tilley

    “It is entirely possible to keep the lights on without resort to the madness of nuclear”

    Yes, as long as they are tea lights….

  • jedibeeftrix 7th Jan '14 - 12:40pm

    @ rc – “Clegg is apparently an ex-Orange Booker. How else can we explain the phrase: “One is to remorselessly pare back the state; just keep – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.”

    I’m sorry, did the orange book recommend remorselessly paring back the state for ideological reasons?

  • RC 7th Jan ’14 – 11:41am
    “It is entirely possible to keep the lights on without resort to the madness of nuclear”

    RC, there is nowadays more than adequate evidence of cheap and plentiful supply of energy from solar. There are also plenty of other safe, sustainable, and renewable energy sources which will not contribute to climate change.
    Why would you want to endanger the general population and mortgage their future through enforced payments in their electricity bills for the next 30 years to enrich a nuclear power giant whose record is summed up in the one word Fukushima?

  • David Allen 7th Jan '14 - 12:52pm

    RC said:

    “the real headline here is that Nick Clegg is apparently an ex-Orange Booker. How else can we explain the phrase: “One is to remorselessly pare back the state; just keep – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.”

    If he really stands by this criticism of the Tories, he’s finally seen the light.”

    Interesting comment. Yes, Clegg appears to be altering his stance. Except that it’s a “sea change” which is being achieved by making some fairly gentle waves. Plenty of politicians move about the political stage forwards and back – Cameron’s “green crap” comes to mind as an example – or say different things to different people at different times. What is Clegg doing?

    In my view, if you really want to shift position, you have to do it big time. When Tony Blair told Labour he wanted a big struggle to ditch Clause Four, he made a change big time. At the end of his big struggle and his party’s vote, nobody could be under any illusions that the change was anything other than real and permanent. Which is what Blair needed to establish.

    Clegg came in with a stealth Clegg Coup by the Orange Bookers. He might be trying to change that now: or he might just be bending with the wind, all the better to survive, and to revert to Orange Bookery once the 2015 election has passed. The public will believe the latter. The public have identified Clegg as the least reliable politician around, the worst of a bad bunch.

    If we really want to differentiate from the Tories, we have to lose Clegg.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Jan '14 - 1:01pm

    @ RC

    Tea lights? That’s not what Ed Davey was saying before we gave your party our votes. Some of us actually believed him and our concern for future generations was one of the major reasons for voting for the party.

    Nigel Farage will have so many open goals thanks to the disrespect that your party has shown for those who actually believed what your leaders were saying.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Jan '14 - 1:24pm

    @ David Allen.
    Actually Osborne’s own party has rounded on Osborne. ( See The Times) Even Iain Duncan Smith has said that cutting benefits to working age people while leaving payments to wealthy pensioners was ‘unbalanced’.

    I fear that Nigel Farage and his party will continue to gain ground and that this is in large part due to lack of trust, contempt even, that the electorate now have for the current governing politicians.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield

    What if you promise one thing in opposition and then when you get into government, when you are actually aware of the facts and constraints of the real world, it is in fact genuinely not possible to deliver?

    I too would like to have a future without nuclear, but if Ed Davey could do without it, I’m sure he would. But the problem is that we have both to ensure there is a base load of electricity generated, come rain, come shine and we have to reduce our carbon emissions at the same time. Renewables on their own, however fantastic they may be, can’t be relied on to do this.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield
    “Nigel Farage will have so many open goals thanks to the disrespect that your party has shown for those who actually believed what your leaders were saying.”

    Nigel Farage wants massive tax cuts for the rich and to withdraw from the UK’s biggest export market, against the advice of the majority of business people. He also questions the existence of man-made climate change, wants to open up our countryside to unlimited fracking and to burn lots more coal.

    If you think any of those aren’t massive open goals, then I don’t know what are.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield “I fear that Nigel Farage and his party will continue to gain ground and that this is in large part due to lack of trust, contempt even, that the electorate now have for the current governing politicians”.

    No, I don’t agree. IMHO, the problem is that “the current governing politicians” have basically capitulated to UKIP as they have all been allowing Nigel Farage to make the running with his popular message without making any meaningful challenge. I really don’t think the “current governing politicians”are doing enough to explain why immigration and the EU bring exceptional benefits to the electorate at large. The impression given by the “current governing politicians” is that they all agree with him and I do think they need to come out much more strongly and tell the electorate why they think he is wrong. They need to stand up and be counted. If they don’t do that they let Nigel Farage win by default, and I really wouldn’t want to see that happen.

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