Nick Clegg’s speech at the National Climate Change March, London

Thousands of people, including many Lib Dems, marched in protest yesterday on the National Climate Change March in London.

Nick Clegg addressed the crowd (transcript below) at the rally in Parliament Square, and MPs Susan Kramer and Jo Swinson were also there.

I made a video of some of the day’s highlights, such as:

Susan Kramer – “If we’re going to have any commitment to climate change then surely the last thing we need are more flights” (00:49:00)

Nick Clegg addressing the rally in Parliament Square (01:14:00)

Jo Swinson on a global approach to tackling climate change (05:34:00)

And er, me, signing off. (06:30:00) Because, hashtags or no, we’re all roving reporters now.

And here’s a transcript of Nick Clegg’s speech:

There are a lot of people, particularly people on low incomes, really really worried about putting food on the table, paying their mortgage this month, paying their heating bills this winter, and most depressingly of all: we have commentators, pundits, politicians lining up, saying that you’re wasting your time. That in a recession we can’t afford the luxury to worry about the planet. That at a time of economic hardship we haven’t got the privilege, we’re self-indulgent to worry about the environment. They are wrong, you are right.

Because it is exactly now, it is exactly at a time of economic crisis, that we have to ask ourselves: How on earth did we create an economy so reliant on the short-termist boom-and-bust speculation of the City, while it let our environment and our planet go to rot? How on earth did we create an economy which is not only socially unjust but environmentally unsustainable? How on earth did we create an economy in which this government, in there [points at Parliament] is spending 37 billion pounds bailing out the bankers who’ve got ourselves into the mess in the first place, and yet they won’t lift a finger to really help us build the green economy of the future?

And that is why I say to you: No to a third runway at Heathrow; no to Kingsnorth; and no to spending twelve and a half billion quid of our money to give us a short-term VAT cut – which we’ll all have to pay for in the future – when every penny of that money should be spent on public transport, on green energy, on sustainable housing for the future.

Let me say one other thing that I think could be done, and it can be done now. It’s something that I’ve pressed Gordon Brown on, in that chamber over there several times and he still refused to act. And it is this: It’s cold, we all know it’s cold, but we have the shocking, the scandalous situation that the big energy companies are charging a pensioner – scrimping and saving, living on her own, to perhaps heat one room in her home (or his!) – is charging her or him more than a multimillionaire who’s heating their five-storey mansion from top to toe. Because we have the outrageous situation that all of us are charged by those companies more for the first bits of energy we use than the last bits of energy we use. How mad is that? It’s bad for the environment, it is unfair, it is unjust, so we, you, must marry the demand for social justice as we come out of this recession, a demand for a fairer economy, a fairer Britain, with your passionate commitment to a greener Britain and a greener world too.

So yes, there are plenty of reasons to be gloomy, but I come to you in a spirit of celebration that you are here in such large numbers, that there are countless demonstrations like this, taking place around the world as well, but also in hope. In the hope that we will learn the lessons of the errors that we have made in the past, and come out of this recession a fairer, a greener nation.

Thank you very much indeed.

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24 Comments

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 7th Dec '08 - 11:08am

    “every penny of that money should be spent on public transport, on green energy, on sustainable housing for the future”

    That’s odd. I don’t remember Nick Clegg arguing at the party conference that “every penny” of the proposed £20bn savings in public expenditure should be spent on these things. On the contrary, he was talking about the “vast bulk” of it going into tax cuts.

    And when an amendment was put up saying that tackling social inequality and climate change should have a higher priority than overall cuts in public spending, the leadership opposed it.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 7th Dec '08 - 3:03pm

    Alix

    As a matter of fact, that phrase – “vast bulk” – was used by Clegg in at least two separate newspaper interviews, the second of which appeared after Clegg had been challenged by Caroline Quinn about the contradiction between it and the party line as enunciated by Ed Davey and others.

    One of the big problems, to my mind, is that Clegg says completely different things to different audiences. When fishing for middle-class votes in a Telegraph interview, he said the “vast bulk” of the £20bn would go into tax cuts. When trying to get the party to back the plans, he said there would be tax cuts only if there was money left over after the party’s spending priorities had been satisified.

    Now, when speaking to people on a climate change march, he says “every penny” of the fiscal stimulus money should be spent on environmentally friendly projects.

    That’s despite the fact that the “green switch” has been definitely downplayed, and the proposed shift to green taxation has apparently shrunk to a pretty derisory £3bn now.

    I’ve had no luck getting a response from Vince Cable about when, why or how this happened. Maybe Steve Webb can explain it tomorrow, if you ask him.

  • In pressed Control + F, typed in “nuclear” and pressed Return. Nothing came up.

    Please Mr Clegg, tell us how we are going to achieve sustainable growth without nuclear power.

    Nick says he is opposed to the Ceaucescuisation of Sipson. Good. I agree with him. Is he also opposed to the exemption from the TCPA of “major infrastructure projects”? Even Thatcher didn’t take away the rights of objectors and lobby groups to air their views at public inquiries.

    BTW. This government, as we know, has made a complete mess of agriculture. But it has at least done one good thing, and that is pay farmers to replant hedgerows, plant new trees, etc (drive through Hampshire and Wiltshire and watch the results). Has Nick any ideas for extending this scheme?

    Oh, and how about stopping the Law Commission, under pressure from the construction industry, recommending doing away with restrictive covenants?

  • Sorry, “Anonymous” is me.

  • I can’t help but agree that this speech sits oddly with the policies Nick Clegg has otherwise pursued.

  • There are a couple of really good things in this speech.

    Most importantly it gets Nick Clegg to publicly and unequivocally nail his colours to the mast. It shows him at ease in front of an audience and enjoying some rapport.

    I also think it shows he has some oratorial skill which can be developed.

    I really like the line “How on earth…” and the way he delivers it. He does express our shared sentiment successfully and he effectively conveys our rationale and how we apply it.

    Clegg should now expand upon this minor triumph and expand upon his identification with serious environmentalism to add to his strong record on economic competence and social conscience.

  • Oranjepan,

    Does Clegg’s “social conscience” explain why he doesn’t know what the basic state pension is?

    Question: Would Chris Huhne have made the same mistake?

  • I don’t know about that, Sesenco.

    If I were to crit your critique I’d say you picked the wrong area to do so.

    Perhaps it weakens his case for economic competence not to have all the facts at his fingertips, but making a simple error conversely raises the empathy levels by showing he is human too.

    However, if this was a mistake it is not a fully-blown gaffe as facts can be learned, whereas spirit cannot: in all honesty an outstanding politician should calculate the long-term value of making deliberate trifling errors at the start of their public career in order to be able to demonstrate quantifiable improvement in performance.

    So don’t be too hasty to jump to conclusions…

  • Excellent. He has risen in my estimation.

    It must be reiterated that environmentalism is the ordinary person’s friend, not some alien thing imposed by elites, but something that will leave us with better & more liverable & deply prosperous lives.

    He should now lead a front on local & if possible organic food, opposition to GM food & overdevelopment, encouragement of ancient woodland as opposed to mindless plantations of non-native species just to tick boxes, public transport, energy efficiency in the home, personal self-sufficiency, & the emergence of green entrepeneurs from the ashes of this recession.

    As James Graham observed on his blog, corporations will have to play a role in greening as they are the only ones with the clout. There should be rigorous strictures to prevent greenwashing: standards should be set & those falling beneath them should be forbidden from using green language in the interests of fair trading.

    Councils could also buy unused land from property speculators & use it for allotments, which are vey much in demand, & which could provide a source of revenue. Maintainance would be entirely by tenants, so it would cost nothing to run.

    There must be a renewed emphasis on our natural heritage. My own forebears, working in thankless industrial jobs, found their recreation in the country & I was lucky to have parents who interested me in outdoor pursuits from a young age, which most inhabitants of the estate couldn’t have cared less about despite our proximity to open countryside.

    This country suffered because most people severed themselves from the land long ago, whereas in most of Europe, for example, the ties have been maintained. Yet this is not an inevitable state of affairs. Green is simply a part of my life & always has been.

    I recommend the excellent work, “Real England” by Paul Kingsnorth, & George Monbiot always scores in the Guardian, as unpopular as he is with the right-wing “libertarians”.

  • Martin Land 7th Dec '08 - 9:43pm

    Remarkably good, Nick. But can’t you find a speechwriting team who are just at war with our opponents, and not with the English Language as well?

  • Oranjepan,

    You are not seriously suggesting that Nick got the basic state pension wrong on purpose, are you?

  • David Morton 7th Dec '08 - 11:04pm

    What jumped out at me was the comment about VAT and then I read this excellent thread. One day you get a PPB which culminates with a statement to camera saying we need “big, permenent” tax cuts. The next the VAT cut is opposed and “every penny” should be on state spending.

    I’m sure the Theologians will be able to reconcile the two but the core messaging is all over the place.

  • David Allen 8th Dec '08 - 12:31am

    David Morton is spot on. Our opponents always charge us with being all things to all men. Clegg seems to be doing his best to prove they are right.

    Clegg tells everybody what he thinks they want to hear. And he acts as if he thinks they’re too stupid to notice. They’re not.

    A while ago, CCF, you gave us a helpful link to the “Northern Echo”. The first thing he said, when interviewed by that publication, was – that his policies were not designed to win the votes of southerners!

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 8th Dec '08 - 9:42am

    “I’m sure the Theologians will be able to reconcile the two but the core messaging is all over the place.”

    I think “theologians” is right, because Lib Dem policy has evolved a complexity far beyond the ken of the average voter.

    Nick Clegg says:
    “no to spending twelve and a half billion quid of our money to give us a short-term VAT cut – which we’ll all have to pay for in the future – when every penny of that money should be spent on public transport, on green energy, on sustainable housing for the future”

    Vince Cable, a couple of weeks ago, pressed by Andrew Marr on whether or not he would support the VAT cut, if that was what was on offer, said:
    “I don’t think it’s putting to the vote, but certainly we would support a tax cut but we have alternative proposals which we think are better …”, having previously explained the alternative: “But we prefer a different approach, which is more targeted on people who really need it, and we believe that people on low incomes, low wages should get an income tax cut, lifting thresholds or reducing the rate, and that’s a much better way of concentrating resources where it needs it.”

    Clegg’s alternative, speaking to environmentalists, is public spending on the environment; Cable’s alternative, speaking to the general public, is cuts in income tax.

    Not to mention Cable’s dishonesty – sorry, but there’s no other word for it – in presenting an income tax cut as something that’s targeted at people on low incomes, when in fact any cut in the basic rate would give the average taxpayer a much bigger tax cut than the taxpayer on a low income.

  • David Morton 8th Dec '08 - 11:04am

    Geoffrey,

    The Green Switch 4p basic rate cut is revenue neutral and funded by higher “sin taxes” and thus isn’t really a fiscal stimulus.

    the VAT cut is funded by extra borrowing and thus is. Previously while criticising the VAT cut spokespeople have always suggested other tax cuts as an alternative. see CCF’s quotes as an example.

    Now on Saturday we are told “every penny” of the £12.5 bn VAT money should have gone on state spending.

    As it happens I’m delighted with what Nick said on Saturday. If we are sticking £12.5bn on the national over draft I’d much rather have some capital spending which will keep people in jobs and have a legacy rather than a tax cut which many people will use to pay off there over drafts.

    I think the fact that presentationally we are veering all over the road like a drunk driver is effecting the amount of coverage we get in the first place.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 8th Dec '08 - 12:18pm

    Mark:
    “The party has a very large number of policies in total. Picking those which are most likely to be of interest to the audience you’re talking seems to me a perfectly sensible approach.”

    But if you are talking about a specific proposal to spend £12.5bn on a fiscal stimulus by cutting VAT, and if the party policy is to stimulate the economy by putting that £12.5bn into other public spending instead, what sense does it make to say that the party’s “alternative” to the £12.5bn VAT cut is to reduce income tax?

    It seems Cable was talking about the 4p cut, which is a quite separate policy agreed under Ming Campbell, which most people wouldn’t describe as a fiscal stimulus at all, because it would be fiscally neutral.

    And as for Nick Clegg’s wonderful pledge to spend £12.5bn on green projects, that’s all very well, but he wasn’t proposing to borrow that money at all – or spend it on anything – until the government came up with its plan for the fiscal stimulus. On the contrary, he was saying he would like to reduce overall public spending and put the money into tax cuts.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 8th Dec '08 - 1:12pm

    And while tax cuts, rather than environmental issues, may indeed be “most likely to be of interest” to a general audience, shouldn’t politicians be trying to give the environment more prominence rather than acquiescing in the disappearance of green issues from the mainstream political agenda?

  • David Allen 8th Dec '08 - 2:06pm

    Right, well, now we have a brand new muddle, don’t we? There seem to be two conflicting views of where we are:

    Position (1): Our green spending plans are all encompasssed within what was announced as the Green Tax Switch over a year ago. What’s new is the idea of borrowing. Gordon borrowed to cut VAT, whereas we would borrow to cut income tax. Nick said nothing new on Saturday, he just presented it in the best way to impress a green audience. Position (1) seems to be what Cable and Mark Pack believe.

    Position (2): Nick HAS announced some brand new green spending plans on Saturday. His £12.5bn of public spending on green projects is going to come out of borrowings, so it’s new money. The figure of £12.5bn comes from diverting Gordon’s VAT cut money, so clearly it isn’t the same as the Green tax switch money, which (as CCF pointed out earlier) has now shrunk to only £3bn. Position (2) seems to be what David Morton believes is now the case. Insofar as we can rely on anything Clegg says, position (2) seems to be the correct interpretation.

    So there we are, “veering all over the road like a drunk driver”. And it’s all quite unnecessary.

    Position (1) is what Nick could easily have said. Then he would merely have been presenting our agreed policy with emphasis on its green aspects. Mark’s comment “Picking those which are most likely to be of interest to the audience you’re talking seems to me a perfectly sensible approach” would then have been a fair one.

    However, position (2) is what Nick actually said. This directly contradicts what Cable said in response to the PBR, which was that the VAT cut money should have been used to cut income tax instead. So if we believe Nick’s speech was for real, it’s clearly a change of policy.

    I wonder how Cable feels about having his policy statement pulled away from under his feet by his leader, speaking from the podium, at an emotional green event organised from outside the party?

    I’m quite happy if we take the view that on mature reflection, we can improve on our response to the PBR. We can look at what Obama is planning and what Paul Krugman (Saturday’s Guardian) is recommending, and we can realise that public spending is a better way out of recession than either VAT or income tax cuts. But if that’s what we’re going to do, let’s start by seeing Clegg and Cable act like a team just for once. Since it was Cable who spoke to the PBR on the subject of income tax cuts, it should have been for Cable to reveal the new thinking, and to explain what has prompted our change of heart, so that it carries conviction. For Clegg to blurt out a big policy shift in soundbites during a protest march just looks totally unprofessional.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 8th Dec '08 - 2:22pm

    “However, position (2) is what Nick actually said. This directly contradicts what Cable said in response to the PBR, which was that the VAT cut money should have been used to cut income tax instead. So if we believe Nick’s speech was for real, it’s clearly a change of policy.”

    Well, it sounded like that, and that’s why I think what Cable said was confusing. I think Cable was actually referring to the “Green Switch” tax cuts, but he made it sound as though he would use the £12.5bn for further tax cuts.

    The other thing was that he described it as “lifting thresholds or reducing the rate”, which made it sound as though it was tax cuts which had yet to be decided on (perhaps from the (still) hypothetical £20bn savings). Maybe that was just a slip of the tongue. Or maybe there is a plan to change the “Green Switch” tax cuts so there is a bigger rise in the threshold and a smaller cut in the basic rate. I would say that’s a good idea, except that the party has been promising a 4p cut for a couple of years.

    Incidentally, I think we should stop calling it the “Green Switch” if only 15% of the money is coming from green taxes. Maybe it could be called the “Rich Switch” instead …

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