Nick Clegg writes… my first year as Liberal Democrat leader

Clegg’s first year: Clegg on Clegg | Tall on Clegg | Land on Clegg | Littlewood on Clegg | Clegg on YouTube

A year ago today I was elected as leader of our great party. It has been a challenging and exciting year. I am very proud that in that time we have made all the running on so many of the important issues facing us.

Across the country in my Town Hall meetings, of which I’ve now held more than 30, people regularly raise with me their concerns about housing repossessions, fuel poverty and personal debt. These are the bread and butter issues that I have been consistently raising in Prime Minister’s Questions, and on which our party has long been leading the arguments and presenting possible ways forward.

Our solutions, so ably articulated by Vince Cable, to Britain’s current economic woes have set the political and economic agenda. We have been proved right to argue that what struggling families and individuals need most is more money in their pockets. That is why we will continue to put the case for tax cuts for low and middle and income earners at every possible opportunity. There is no doubt that this message is resonating with large swathes of the country.

We have been vocal on other issues too. For years we have been recognised as leading the debate on environmental issues. I am determined that we continue with that leadership. The current economic climate represents not a threat to sound environmental policies but an opportunity. An opportunity to explain how Britain can lead the new Green economy and provide a new generation of green collar jobs. That is why today with Steve Webb I’m launching our ‘Green Road out of the Recession’.

Rather than squander £12.5bn on the temporary VAT cut we would use that to pay for a massive green stimulus. We would invest in an insulation and energy efficiency project for homes, schools and hospitals and would build 40,000 extra zero-carbon social homes. We would purchase 700 new train carriages, electrify the Great Western and Midland mainlines and would re-open 14 old train line and build 6 new ones. Our green stimulus would help create jobs and would help give Britain a sustainable investment in public infrastructure.

In short, we are the only party that is able to provide a real, green, solution to the problems that Britain faces. And we are also the only party which has taken a consistent and honest approach to the war in Iraq.

Gordon Brown yesterday announced the long overdue final plan for troop withdrawals from Iraq. No issue more clearly demonstrates how we have been consistently right on the issues that are of most significance to our country. The war in Iraq was illegal, immoral and simply wrong. And we were right to oppose it from the outset and to question the government every step of the way.

We are renewing our calls for an inquiry into the war. There remain many unanswered questions about how this government misled over the war and it is right that those responsible are held to account. You can sign our petition here.

We were right on Iraq, just as we are right on the need to make Britain a freer, fairer and greener country. The year ahead will be an exciting and important one for our party. We will take crucial steps to winning power in order to fundamentally change the way Britain is run and the way people are treated.

The Labour and Conservative parties have consistently failed this country. They offer more of the same: only we offer hope for a different, better future.

* Nick Clegg was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats exactly one year ago, 18th December, 2007.

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15 Comments

  • Nick, in respect of internal party matters, in what ways will you, or the party machine be implementing the recommendations of the Bones Commission next year?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 18th Dec '08 - 11:14am

    “Rather than squander £12.5bn on the temporary VAT cut we would use that to pay for a massive green stimulus. We would invest in an insulation and energy efficiency project for homes, schools and hospitals and would build 40,000 extra zero-carbon social homes. We would purchase 700 new train carriages, electrify the Great Western and Midland mainlines and would re-open 14 old train line and build 6 new ones.”

    This is interesting, because I had been surprised to see “green energy” among the things Clegg said the £12.5bn should be spent on, in his speech at the National Climate Change March earlier this month.

    That had seemed to be a change from Vince Cable’s previous line that money should be borrowed to spend on “housing, transport and environmental works such as home insulation”.

    Now spending on “green energy” seems to be off the menu again. The idea seems to be that we do without new nuclear and coal-fired power stations and make the UK independent of imported fuel by means of a massive expansion in renewable energy – but that this is all to be done without additional state funding. Is that really credible?

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 18th Dec '08 - 12:06pm

    “It is expected that our priorities will be less than £20Billion, so maybe some of that can be spent on green energy?”

    The impression I got from the last policy document on this was that the funding was to come from “feed-in tariffs” – in other words, whatever external funding was needed would come from the consumer directly rather than from the government, through an increase in the price of electricity.

    Effectively, the shift would be funded by a regressive tax – and the cost could be considerable if we are really talking about a large and rapid expansion in renewable energy. Is that a fair way of sharing out the cost of green energy?

  • David Allen 18th Dec '08 - 6:18pm

    “We would purchase 700 new train carriages, electrify the Great Western and Midland mainlines, and establish a five-year plan for the reunification of our glorious British Railways network” (oh all right, I made up part of that)

    Who said that? Some unreconstructed Socialist statist micro-manager, who has not yet realised that no mere politician should ever try to second-guess the free market?

  • David Allen 18th Dec '08 - 7:06pm

    Huw, I quite agree with you. My point is that we shouldn’t be trumpeting the purity of our Liberalism and the anathema of all Statist solutions one day, and then coming up with schemes like this the next day!

  • David – we weren’t “trumpeting the purity of our Liberalism and the anathema of all Statist solutions”. So know problem. Easy!

    I know I eat too much food. I often talk about eating less. Or diet, or exercise. Does that make me a hypocrite or doing a u-turn if I also talk about eating food some of the time? Of course not.

  • Steve, your attitude to food and dieting is pragmatic and balanced, Nick’s philosophical attitude to liberalism and the state is not! See

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/news/crime-must-not-end-hope-clegg-94838837;show

    Clegg, in his Demos speech, has not a single good word to say for anything the State can do. Just to take one of the many anti-statism quotes:

    “Liberal economics rests on the idea that we have to get the rules right. ….. What it does not believe is that the State should seek to micromanage the economy…”

    And then Nick comes along the next day and tells the railways they should get 700 new carriages bought from public funds!

  • David, I had the benefit of being in the audience at the Demos speech, and your characterisation of his speech is inaccurate. It was, as is typical for Nick, a balanced analysis drawing from several aspects of the liberal tradition.

    He also usefully clarified that economic liberalism is not, as it is characterised by Old Labour, some ultra-libertrian creed; but a tradition that believes in the market where it works and regulation where it fails.

  • David Morton 19th Dec '08 - 4:38am

    So there we have it again. ” tax cuts” ( which ones? How much ? when ?) for “Low and middle income earners” ( who are they? What does that mean ? Paid for how ? )

    The biggest single problem the party has faced over the last 30 years is the perception that we can say what we want because we will never be in power.

    Articles like this put a gold embossed crest on that argument.

  • David Allen 19th Dec '08 - 5:10pm

    Andy, I had the benefit of reading the full transcript off the website, so …. er, so maybe it was the body language I misunderstood?

    As you and others have commented, Clegg’s description of liberalism was well balanced, and it certainly didn’t sound like the Tory version of “liberal”. The problem came with Clegg’s extended rant in condemnation of the State and all its works. When we have just accepted a massive state bail-out, and proposed a pretty statist “green road” policy, this makes us look pretty muddled.

    I’m not, incidentally, the world’s greatest fan of state spending. When I used to serve on my local Borough Council, I often found myself, as a private industry Lib Dem, oddly to the “right” of our public-sector Tories, who were much more liable than I was to accept that every bright idea our officers had to spend more money should automatically be supported. I just think we need to live in the real world. That means not kidding yourself that the state can just wither away when blasted with the white heat of our liberalising torch!

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