Nick Clegg lambasts George Osborne’s “monumental mistake”

Clegg on OsbourneThe media are full of stories and commentary about  George Osborne’s announcement yesterday on the need to make a further £25 billion cuts after the next election, the bulk of which would come from welfare benefits.  Even the Telegraph refers to him as a “prophet of gloom“.

There is also much coverage of Nick Clegg’s response at his monthly press conference in which he said the Tories were making a “monumental mistake”.

You’ve 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 – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.

Secondly – and I think they are making a monumental mistake in doing so – they say the only people in society, the only section in society, which will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation are the working-age poor.

Yesterday Newsnight devoted a large chunk of time to this issue. In the studio Linda Jack commented on it from a Liberal Democrat perspective. She agreed with Nick Clegg’s analysis and called for a cost-benefit analysis of any proposed cuts. Referring to the rising costs of malnutrition she said “You can’t look at the cuts without looking at the consequences”.

When challenged that the Liberal Democrats had agreed to the deficit total, she replied “Sorry, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander agreed to it”. She then went on to explain the difference between decisions taken under the compromise of Coalition, and policies agreed by the party at Conference. No decisions have yet been taken on the 2015 manifesto.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • I wouldn’t normally point out a typo, but this one is quite prominent: it’s Osborne, without the “u” 🙂

  • I just wish that Nick Clegg had made this point about ideologically-inspired hatred of the state much, much earlier and actually backed it with some actions, like opposing re-privatisation of the East Coast Mainline operations.

  • jedibeeftrix 7th Jan '14 - 12:36pm

    paring back the state to the tolerance of the electorate for taxation seems like good sense, or shall I expect to see tax rises on page one of your 2015 manifesto, Mr clegg?

  • Will the Tories tell us how they are going to find another 12 billion of cuts from the welfare budget? Will it be on the first page of their manifesto?

  • What’s interesting is that the Tories are deeply split on this. I can’t see a way of cutting £2 billion from the housing benefit budget without turfing thousands of young parents onto the streets. I saw Sajid Javid on newsnight last night and he got buried on this as they had a video of a young person needing housing benefit after being thrown out of home – he was all at sea. If they can’t find £2 billion how on earth can they find £12 billion? Abolish child benefit is probably the most workable solution.

    We should welcome Tories like Tim Montgomerie who have stood up on this (he’s even gone further and welcomed Nick Clegg’s comments) and encourage others with concerns to do so.

  • Will he pledge to oppose these cuts should he form a coalition with the Conservatives after the 2015 election?

  • Alex Sabine 7th Jan '14 - 2:38pm

    Given that the coalition has already raised taxes overall by about 2% of GDP, taking it back close to the pre-crisis peak, while government spending remains at historically high levels, there is a clear pragmatic case for a largely spending-based consolidation through the next Parliament to bring the state’s outlays into line with the public’s willingness to pay for them.

    I also agree with George Osborne that once the deficit is eliminated we will need to run year-on-year surpluses (assuming the economy is growing at a reasonable clip) in order to make serious inroads into the national debt, which of course is mounting all the time and will be dangerously high in the event of another economic shock in the next decade or so. Only then will a future government be able to fulfil Nick Clegg’s oft-repeated aim of ‘wiping the slate clean for future generations’.

    However, where I strongly disagree with the current Tory thinking is that the necessary spending cuts ought to be distributed sensibly across all government departments (without ring-fencing of overall departmental budgets) and also must be generationally fair and not borne solely by the working-age population. The approach currently being outlined by David Cameron strikes me not so much as ideological as shamelessly populist (given the propensity of pensioners to vote).

    On this Nick Clegg is closer to the mark, although he deludes himself if he thinks there are many billions to saved from restricting pensioner benefits alone (especially if you were only to take them away from the very wealthiest as opposed to the merely affluent). The triple lock which he boasts about is a much more expensive commitment and makes it almost inevitable that there will be a lopsided reliance on the rest of the welfare budget. It is a matter of opinion whether this is the right priority, but there is a strange cognitive dissonance in Clegg’s stance.

  • Whilst the details of just what exactly George Osborne proposes to cut are open to question and will only really get hammered out after the 2015 election, I suspect that George is basically setting out the ground for the 2015 election, namely: whilst the economy is recovering we still have massive debts and excessive government expenditure (in relation to tax receipts). Hence basically saying that any party’s 2015 manifesto that proposes increased government expenditure is to regarded as fantasy.

  • Mmmmm,… where to find £12 billion savings?
    Let’s see. £55 million per day to the EU = £20.1 billion per year
    The EU give us back some of our own money to the tune about 43% under the pretence that it is EU funding. So that means the EU keep, and fritter away 57% of our £20.1 billion.
    And 57% of 20.1 billion = £ 11.46 billion savings. Time to exit the EU instead of bashing the poor even more.?
    There, fixed it for you.

  • Jonathan Brown 7th Jan '14 - 5:42pm

    Sounds nice, doesn’t it John? There’s just the small matter of:

    “Not only does Norway suffer the indignity of implementing whatever regulation or directive comes off the fax machine, but it also pays around €340m a year into the EU budget. Under similar circumstances, the UK, given its size, would probably pay £2.5bn-£4bn a year, which is close to half of our current net contribution. But imagine being told what to do by a body over which we had no influence.”

    The article uses different figures to yours, but the point is well made. And it doesn’t even consider the opportunity cost of having manufacturing businesses and financial services relocate to the continent, or of other regional trading blocks negotiating free-trade deals with the EU that either leave us out or don’t match our interests.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jan '14 - 5:49pm

    Good work from Nick.

  • @ Jonathan Brown
    Those scare tactics have zero evidence, and fool no-one, and their constant regurgitation is just silly. The fact is that the EU need our ‘monthly maintenance cheques’, more than we need them. And ‘bogey man’, scares over threats to EU UK trade are laughable.
    I’m just trying to point out, a simple fact; that if your family can barely pay the rent, gas, electric, and council tax, and you’re relying on food banks to keep the family’s body and soul together, does it really make sense for father to waste the family budget on that pointless EU ‘Gym membership’.?
    Clearly, father, and Liberal Democrats think yes. What a pity the whole family doesn’t have a say in the matter? Maybe at least the family will get to show their disapproval in the May elections?

  • Oh come on. It is time to call a vote of no confidence in the Tories and be done with this horrible alliance. I’m sure our Labour friends would be only too pleased to support us. We should never have got into bed with the “nasty party” in the first place and we really have nothing in common with them We in the LibDems are ideologically far closer to Labour and I think most of us would be far better off in an alliance with Labour next time round.

  • Frank Booth 7th Jan '14 - 11:27pm

    I’d be interested to know what Labour’s reaction to these comments is. On the surface it’s almost as if Clegg is writing off a deal post-2015 witht he Tories. However being very cynical here I wonder if Osborne is saying this because he thinks it will get populist support even though he has no intention of carrying it out because he knows public opinion would turn whent he reality is seen. At the same time he knows that this is something he could ‘offer’ the Lib Dems in a coalition negotiation. ‘Okay Nick, we won’t be so tough on welfare’ and Clegg will probably fall for it. He thinks he’s making a difference whilst the Tories nonetheless are negotiated back to a centre-right position (which is what they’ve always wanted) from a hard-right position.

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