Nick Clegg’s speech: Governing Britain from the centre ground: building a stronger economy in a fairer society

 Nick Clegg at rallyNick Clegg gave a keynote speech at the Royal Commonwealth Society on the eve of his 5th anniversary of his election as Liberal Democrat leader. This is what he had to say:

I don’t suppose it’s exactly controversial to suggest that I and my party have changed over that period. Today I will argue that we’ve changed for the better.
Because my purpose here today is to explain, clearly and simply, what the Liberal Democrats offer the people of Britain, and why it’s an offer which speaks to modern Britain.
Our offer is different from that of the Conservatives.
It’s also different from Labour’s offer. That won’t surprise you.
What will surprise you, perhaps, is that it’s different too from the offer of the Liberal Democrats in opposition.
What I want to set out is a case for why Britain should be governed from the centre ground. A case for both a stronger economy and a fairer society, because we can have both – they are not mutually exclusive.
Serious parties know that that the centre ground is the only place from which Britain can be governed. And serious leaders try to keep their parties in the centre ground.
But in times of economic distress, when people and parties are under pressure, when there are no easy answers, no silver bullets, only tough choices – at times like these, politics quickly becomes polarised as the homing instincts of ideologues to the right and the left kick in.
The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world…
where we can walk away from the EU, but magically keep our economy strong…
where we can pretend the world hasn’t moved on, and stand opposed to equal marriage…
where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority of their own.
The Labour left lives in a different, but no less destructive, fantasy world…
where their irresponsible borrowing in government can be remedied by borrowing more…
where every budget reduction can be opposed without explaining where the money should come from…
where games can be played with political reform and EU budget policy without long-term damage to their credibility.
It is at times like these that Britain needs a party rooted in the centre ground, which anchors the country there.
The Liberal Democrats are that party. We’re not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home.
While the tribalists in other parties desert the centre ground under pressure, the Liberal Democrats have done the reverse. Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre.
Governing from the centre ground means applying pragmatic liberalism to the policy challenges of our time.
But pragmatic liberalism is not the same as dogmatic liberalism. And that is what distinguishes Liberal Democrats in opposition from Liberal Democrats in government.
The greatest strength of our party is our idealism. But in our strength lies our weakness – because sometimes idealism can turn into dogma, or at least an unwillingness to engage fully with the day-to-day experiences and perspectives of the British people we seek to serve.
A party of government knows that workable solutions need to be grounded in values – but also that they must respond to the hopes and fears of reasonable people.
This is the lesson we’ve learnt in government. The challenges of governing at a difficult time have given us a harder edge and a more practical outlook.
It’s worth pausing here for a moment and making a point about the immediate future of my party. There are two alternatives.
If we are to become a more permanent fixture of government, then it will be, at least at first, as a partner in coalitions.
That means embracing the realities of coalition government, and becoming better and better at negotiating successfully on behalf of those in Britain who expect us to stand up for them.
It means accepting compromise.
It means putting up with people who object that we haven’t got everything they wanted, and who can’t see the value in getting much, much more than we ever could in opposition.
Because that is the alternative – a retreat to the comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition.
But – and let me make this very clear – choosing opposition over government is not a values-free choice.
It is a dereliction of duty. Because if our values and principles matter to us, we should want to see them deployed for the good of the British people. It’s not about us, after all. It’s about the people we serve.
Let me offer an example of how, in government, the Liberal Democrats have tacked towards the centre, not away from it.
In opposition, it would have been easy to decry the less pleasant consequences of austerity. No matter how rational opposition parties try to be, it’s just too easy, too tempting, to go for the quick win. That’s why opposition parties are so good at spending ‘savings’ two, three or four times over. Play budgeting with play money.
But in government, we’ve not been able to do that.
We know from experience now: if you protect the health and education budgets, as we correctly did, you can’t oppose every reduction in the welfare budget.
If you want to protect welfare as well, you’ve got to accept that you’ll end up gutting the crime budget, or the BIS budget, or local government. We get that now. We’ve learnt to live with a host of invidious choices.
Another example: in these distressed economic times, the ideologues to left and right find comfort in the shibboleths of their preferred economic doctrines and turn their backs on evidence and reason.
So the prescription of the right is all supply-side – deregulate, cut, get out of the way.
The prescription of the left is all demand-driven – tax, borrow, spend, intervene.
In government, we’ve rejected these Manichean alternatives and stuck with a more flexible approach.
Yes, we have to cut expenditure to bring down the deficit.  Otherwise we put ourselves in hock to the bond markets, drive up interest rates and impoverish future generations.
And yes, we have deregulated:
We’ve stripped back accountancy rules for the smallest businesses.
We’ve simplified the rules around maternity leave and flexible working.
We’ve extended the qualifying period for unfair dismissal so businesses can be confident about hiring new staff.
But we have also taken steps to drive demand:
We’ve put money back in the pockets of the low and middle income families we know are most likely to spend it with our income tax cut.
We’ve taken every opportunity to increase investment in capital – infrastructure, roads, rail, schools
We’ve established the Regional Growth Fund, the Growing Places Fund and multi-billion pound Treasury guarantees for investment to unlock private sector growth.
We have resisted the false choice between a state that steps in and assumes control, and a state that backs off and washes its hands.
We have embraced the challenge of building an enabling state that acts where necessary and backs off where not…
Promoting, inspiring and facilitating growth and opportunity.
But recognising that the strong economy we want can only be built on the back of hard work and responsibility by citizens themselves.
So we’ve been on a journey. But our journey has been towards the centre ground, not away from it. Because the centre ground is where liberals are best able to fulfil our purpose in politics.
For Liberal Democrats, our purpose is to enable every person to be who they want to be and to get on in life. Freedom and opportunity combined. Or what the philosophers might call ‘substantive freedom’.
To deliver on our purpose, we need to build a stronger economy in a fairer society.
We need a stronger economy because without resilience and sustainable growth, our economy will never be able to deliver the jobs and the opportunity people need.
We need a fairer society because unless we ensure everyone has the means to get on, some will be left behind while others race ahead, and our society will become increasingly unfair and unequal.
And so every policy we promote has to make our economy stronger and our society fairer.
What underpins our ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ agenda, and gives it a distinctly liberal flavour, is a very clear conception of the appropriate balance between the role of the state and the role of the citizen.
For us, that relationship is clear: it is the government’s responsibility to ensure every person has the opportunity to get on, but every person must take personal responsibility for using those opportunities by working hard.
We cannot absolve people of their responsibility for improving their own lives, because to do so would be to turn them into dependants – and so deny their agency and compromise their dignity. You can’t build a stronger economy with people lost to dependency.
At the same time, we cannot wash our hands of those without the means and advantages to get on in life alone. To do so would compromise their potential and diminish their dignity – a tragedy for them and a waste for society. You can’t build a fair society when you deny some the chance to fulfil their potential.
Our commitment to opportunity has deep roots. Liberals have an unshakeable belief in human potential. We know that children born in the most difficult circumstances can rise above them and live the fullest of lives – but only if they’re given the help to do so.
Parents know what I mean. You look at your children and yearn with hope for their future. You do whatever you can to give them every advantage. You worry about the obstacles they will face, and you plan to help them overcome them all.
But equally, parents know that kids need to learn to look after themselves. Slowly but surely, we guide them into independence and adulthood. Because we know that to be happy, they will need the means and capacity to run their own lives – and pass their love and skills on to the grandchildren they might give you one day.
Parents know instinctively that a balance of opportunity and responsibility are what human beings need to thrive. Why would the state treat people otherwise?
And so we need both – a stronger economy and a fairer society; more opportunity and more responsibility.
Every one of our policies needs to meet this test.

I want to use as an example our approach to welfare. Labour left us with a welfare system with two fundamental problems: Design and affordability.

First: design – Labour left us with a benefit system in which work didn’t always pay, but sometimes playing the system did. A benefit system that trapped millions on out of work benefits with no hope or aspiration for a better life. A benefit system that took money off people in tax and then gave them some of it back if they filled out a series of government forms – instead of letting them keep the money in the first place. And a benefit system which meant in some parts of the country families who didn’t work were able to live in far better homes than families on low or average wages. The benefit system was so badly designed we had a social duty to reform it.

But the second problem with Labour’s benefits system was affordability. Since the 1970s our economy has tripled in size but the welfare budget has increased seven fold.

So the unaffordability of Labour’s welfare system gave us a financial imperative for reform too. It is that fiscal imperative which has, rightly, forced us to go back to first principles with Universal Credit, a new benefit model for the 21st century.

Universal Credit is a centre ground welfare reform. Its central purpose is to ensure that you are better off in work. That shouldn’t be a radical change – but it is. Of course, it isn’t enough to just make sure work pays and then let the state get out of the way. Because many people need support, encouragement and training to get out and find a job. And – let’s be honest – some people do need tough sanctions to get them active. That’s why we’ve introduced the Claimant Commitment for those who apply for benefits – a written contract between taxpayers and the claimant setting out how all those who can will work to get off benefits in the future. That’s why we’ve introduced the rule that anyone who refuses a reasonable job offer will have their benefits docked, and anyone who refuses three will get no JSA at all for three years. It’s why we’ve made it clear that you can’t limit your job search to a specific sector or place for more than three months. It’s why we’re introducing proper assessments for disability benefits – so the money goes to those who need it most. It’s why we’ve introduced the Work Programme to support people who need help finding a job. It’s why we are introducing a new Single Tier Pension to make sure everyone who saves sees the benefit. And it’s why we’re pushing ahead with the roll-out of Employment Support Allowance, with strict rules so that people who are unwell but could work with the right support get that support and are expected to plot a course back to work. Of course it is harder to find a job and keep it if you are unwell. But some conditions are so common that we simply cannot write sufferers off and pay them to stay at home.

Never mind that the state can’t afford it. We should not delude ourselves that it is an act of compassion to tell someone that because of ill health they should spend the rest of their lives dependent on benefits. It belittles their potential and ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is time for politicians and the benefits system to recognise that people with health conditions have just as much potential as everyone else if only they are given the help they need to get on.

Universal credit means families will be better off in work than out of it. That is essential to keep people’s faith in the system. When two thirds of people think the benefits system is too generous and discourages work then it has to be changed or we risk a total collapse in public support for welfare existing at all. Politicians of the centre ground, who believe in a benefit safety net, have an absolute duty to be tough on those few who abuse, or try to abuse, the generosity of tax payers and exploit our benefits system. And an absolute duty to make sure the system as a whole is – and appears to be – fair.

We need welfare protection for people who fall on hard times. Of course. But you cannot ask low income working people to pay through their taxes for people who aren’t in work to live more comfortably than they do. That’s why we have introduced a cap on the amount of housing benefit you can claim of £20,000 a year – a rent many working families would stretch to afford. It’s why we have introduced an overall cap on the benefits people can claim, so you can’t get more in benefit than the average family brings in from work. This is controversial.

And in government we have anchored the reform in the centre ground by insisting on vital protections – like support for the 50,000 families affected to ensure they get the help they need to find a job. Like a grace period so if you lose your job, you don’t suddenly find yourself unable to make the rent – you have nine months to find work and get back on your feet. And exemptions for those families where the parents simply can’t work – those in the ESA support category for example. With these protections I believe the overall cap on benefits will make a significant difference in encouraging families to work and take responsibility for their lives.

So this is the welfare system we have designed: one that promotes opportunity and requires responsibility. Some of our critics believe either that the Liberal Democrats in government did not want to reform welfare or were powerless to stop the Conservatives from doing so. The truth is this: yes, welfare reform has been painful and controversial at times but it was in our manifesto and on our agenda right from the start.

The Liberal Democrats are now the party of welfare reform – sensible, centre ground welfare reform. Recognising that most people on out of work benefits want to find a job but often need help to improve their skills before they can. Recognising that there are some people who want to play the system and therefore shouldn’t get benefits at all but that they are in the minority. Recognising that being unwell can make it much harder to work but not accepting that we should therefore give up on people.

So as we develop Liberal Democrat plans for the next wave of welfare reform – and further reforms will be necessary – I want us to keep at the front of our minds the idea that a liberal state is an enabling state. The enabling state gets help to those who need it but doesn’t hand out money to those who don’t. The enabling state pays for education and training so you can get a better job; it doesn’t let you drift on for years, unemployable. The enabling state pays for and directs you to medical treatment if you’re unwell so that you can get back to work and not have to live on sickness benefits. The enabling state pays for childcare so you can get out to work; it doesn’t pay you to stay at home for twenty years. The enabling state offers a benefit back stop for those who need it but ensures that work is always the better option.

So we will be developing proposals that:

·         Continue to hold down costs in a way that is fair to welfare claimants and to the other taxpayers who support them.

·         Incentivise work by supporting childcare more effectively, extending conditionality for claimants and increasing access to education and training.

·         Encourage those with health conditions to undergo treatment that will help them to get better.

·         Support fairness by making clear that money should not be paid to those who do not need it – looking again at universal benefits paid to the wealthiest pensioners.

Centre ground reforms from a centre ground party.

The alternatives put forward by the other parties are clearly misguided. There are some on the left who argue that benefits are a right – and the state has no business expecting anything from claimants in return. That any system which assumes people with health problems or a difficult background nonetheless have the capacity to make something of their lives is oppressive and discriminatory. That increasing benefit payments is more important than increasing the pay of nurses and teachers.

Labour have tied themselves in knots over our plan to increase benefits by one per cent a year – saying they would make an artificial divide between the deserving and undeserving poor – those in work and those who are out of work through no fault of their own – and uprate some benefits by inflation instead. Never mind that they haven’t identified what other spending they would cut to fund this promise. Never mind that Labour have actively supported a 0% rise – a freeze – in public sector pay. It doesn’t make rational sense.

My view is simple: there is absolute moral equivalence between working hard in a job and working hard to find a job. Out of work benefits should rise at the same rate as in work benefits because they should only go to people who genuinely can’t find work or are too sick to work. Of course, there are some on the right who believe that no-one could possibly be out of work unless they’re a scrounger. If you can’t find a job you must be lazy. If you say you’re too sick to work you’re probably pretending. The siren voices of the Tory right who peddle this myth could have pulled a majority Conservative government in the direction of draconian welfare cuts.

Just look at what happened this autumn. The Conservatives suggested we cut an extra £10bn from welfare. And ideas were put forward to penalise families with more than two children by taking away child benefit and to penalise young people who want to move away from home in search of a job by denying them housing benefit. But when the political hothouse of the conference season was over and our two parties sat down to agree a plan, the Coalition stuck to the centre ground. We agreed £3.8bn of benefit cuts – uprating all benefits in line with the pay rises we can afford from next April in the public sector of one per cent. And we rejected the more extreme reforms that had been put on the table.

This is the job of the Liberal Democrats: to anchor reform in the sensible centre ground.

Turning the ideas we promoted in opposition – of benefits as a route out of, not into poverty – into practical, deliverable policy.

Both the Conservatives and Labour try to occupy the centre ground. Both get pushed off it by their tribal politics. But the Liberal Democrats are not for shifting. We know that the centre ground is what the people of Britain want their government to occupy. We know that the centre ground is the place to build consensus, the place where co-operation and collaboration can deliver the good government people want. The only place where government can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, ensuring opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and a better future for the country as a whole.

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  • Wow, where to begin. There are so many unsupported assertions, and dazzling claims that omit facts of consequences, that I could polemicise at exhaustive length. Instead, I will just say this – Clegg’s claim that under his leadership the party is occupying the centre ground between right and left, between the Tories and Labour, is utterly misleading. Simply because Labour is not (and has not been since before Blair) a party of the left – that is the single most damaging consequence of the Thatcher/Major years, the fact that the entire corpus of British politics has been ruthlessly steamrollered to the right. One need only select a few of Blair’s greatest hits – the invasion of Iraq, the eager proliferation of PFI scam deals, the vile pandering to the Daily Mail on the part of Blunkett, Jack Straw, John Reid and others, New Labour’s attempts to scapegoat benefit claimants, even back then – to understand that Labour was subverted by a rightwing cabal hellbent on turning it into some kind of pale Atlanticist clone of the American Democratic party. So there is no major left wing party for Clegg to hold the balance between; where he stands is the interzone between the avowedly rightwing, promarket Tories and the weak-sauce, tory-lite Labour of Miliband. The true centre of UK politics is, sadly, well to the left of all 3 mainstream parties, which makes the Clegg leadership a rightwing neo-Gladstonian clique. As we’ve known for quite some time.

  • Tom Richards 17th Dec '12 - 12:58pm

    Mike – bit confused by two sentences in your previous comment…

    “Clegg’s claim that under his leadership the party is occupying the centre ground.. between the Tories and Labour, is utterly misleading.”
    “where he stands is the interzone between the avowedly rightwing, promarket Tories and the weak-sauce, tory-lite Labour of Miliband”

    Surely he’s either between the Tories and Labour or he’s not? And I’m not sure the Lib Dems (or, indeed, the British public) ever claimed to be full blown socialists?

  • Authoritarian illiberal policies from Blunkett et al are perfectly compatible with being left-wing Mike. Left-wing is surely the economic belief in state control whilst right wing is the economic belief in no state control. In that sense, we remain centre-ground as a party (even as, as you rightly assert, Labour are all over the place…).

    Admittedly it is also difficult to define centre-ground relatively when we know very little of Labour’s plans so far.

  • David Allen 17th Dec '12 - 1:11pm

    I’ll stick with what I said earlier (since it lost most of a day in moderation, it probably thereby got itself hidden in the thread):

  • David Allen 17th Dec '12 - 1:46pm

    Tom Richards,

    Mike is saying that Clegg is between the Tories and Labour, and that they are all on the Right.

    I’d tend to agree, except perhaps about Labour. Blair’s Labour was certainly on the Right. Miliband’s Labour is floating around and acting hard to pin down.

  • “When two thirds of people think the benefits system is too generous and discourages work then it has to be changed or we risk a total collapse in public support for welfare existing at all. ”

    Alternatively we could explain the system in sensible terms rather than let the tabloid hysteria reign free. Benefits need to be set at the level required to provide the aid they are intended for. If set correctly they should rise in line with inflation. When he goes on to accuse Labour of being irrational in their support fro a freeze in wages but not in benefits he is just plain wrong. Wages are not set as subsistence levels therefore real term reductions whilst not pleasant or desirable, can be rationally agreed to.

  • Thank god somebody who is saying that not everybody who cant find a job is lazy . Im one of the “strivers” .I have worked hard since leaving school in 1976 but fell ill 2 years ago and lost my job and now cant find work. I feel like a leper when Cameron infers , all the time, that you have to be working hard . Well I have worked hard but sometimes you run out of steam, we are only human after all. How I am going to make it to 67 for my pension I dontknow.

  • Steve Way says :
    “Wages are not set as subsistence levels…….”
    Minimum wage is £16.19, whereas a living wage is gauged at about £7.45.
    “Benefits need to be set at the level required to provide the aid they are intended for.”
    So this logic tells us that folk who are working, might have to work for BELOW subsistence level earnings, but benefit claimants should get the full amount they need for subsistence.

  • Error : Meant £ 6.19 MW.

  • Stephen Hesketh 17th Dec '12 - 9:02pm

    Centre ground? I thought I’d joined the Liberals/ Lib Dems because they were/ARE a party of libertarian, green, egalitarian, decentralised and internationalist ideals. Philosophically, I don’t care where Labour and the Tories wander. We should argue for our policies and seek to demonstrate their (very real) relevence to the British people rather than attempt to position ourselves between two parties with long histories of supporting this or that powerful interest group at the expense of the mass of the British people and the longer term interests of our nation and its regions. I do however welcome Nick’s renewed attempts to clearly differentiate us from the Tories.

  • I struggle, somewhat, with the following statement in Nick Clegg’s speech:

    “Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre. ”

    Where were we before the ‘pressure’? And how, exactly, have we ‘moved’?

  • Very much agree with Alex Marsh here.
    Welfare is by no means “spiralling out of control”. It is actually still lower than in the early/mid 90’s as a % of GDP.

    Steve Way makes a good point that benefits are set at a subsistence level. The government sets them as “the minimum you need to live on”. There is no spare to be cut, and because those minimum essential costs such as food and household bills have risen faster than inflation, we should actually be looking at increasing them and reviewing the way they are set.

    In terms of polling, most people do now see that the welfare system traps people, because the high rate of benefit withdrawal means effective tax rates as high as 100%, strongly disincentivising work. However the majority of people also say that we should ensure benefits rise in line with prices.

    I am surprised to hear a Lib Dem speaking in such a way about social security systems. Doesn’t sound very Lib Dem, and its quite off-putting.

  • Tony Dawson – I think Clegg is acknowledging what many of those of us on the left of the Lib Dems have said for ages – that there has been a perceptible move to the right in the party, not unassociated with the coming to power of the man himself and his “Orange Book” associates (please note, all you OB fans, that I have applied inverted commas as a compromise formula with you!) This move to the right has been coming for years – possibly since we gained all those MPs in 1997, and it may be, as NC himself says, that the nearer to “real power” the more the likelihood is that we will adopt establishment policies.

    Personally, I am with Stephen Hesketh and others on here, who have been members because of the principles of the party. You will notice that many of us who post here from the “left” are involved with active politics – many of us get elected, and we are able to do that from the honest positions we espouse (most of us don’t hide beneath a carpet of right wingery and tabloidism). So, I think that our principled arguments are being undermined constantly by these assertions that you have to “be in the centre” to be elected, and that it is necessary to accept what the academics have called “the post – Thatcher settlement”.

    I think Nick Clegg is a central part of the political establishment now, phrasing his earlier calls for those on the left of the party to leave in new words. Yes, opposition does have some different skills from governing / running a political administration, but for a party which has always valued honesty high on the agenda, I cannot approve of his previously expressed views, and implied again here, that the party has lied in opposition to gain power. If this is widely the case, then it is not surprising that we may have lost two thirds of our support in nationally contested elections (which it looks like currently).

    Summing up the speech, I believe it is NC’s attempt to justify what has happened, without admitting the central strategic mistake of flipping on economic / public spending / benefits policy in particular.

  • Dave Simpson 18th Dec '12 - 9:14am

    Regardless of the content, it appears that Clegg has finally, at last abandoned his slavish acceptanve of the doctrine of Collective Cabinet Responsibility. This Doctrine may make sense in the context of a single-party Cabinet, but cannot work with a Coalition. Let us hope that from now on Clegg will have the courage to point out policies where we are simply outvoted by the Tories in Cabinet – such as University tuition fees – and have to im plement although we disagree with them.
    Negotiating the abandonment of Collective Cabinet Responsibility, and perhaps its replacement by Collective Party Cabinet Group Responsibility, should be the first priority in the formation of any future Coalition Agreement.

  • “Let us hope that from now on Clegg will have the courage to point out policies where we are simply outvoted by the Tories in Cabinet – such as University tuition fees – and have to im plement although we disagree with them.”

    There’s actually no mechanism for the Lib Dems being “outvoted by the Tories in Cabinet” and forced to support measures that haven’t been agreed by both parties. And tuition fees are probably the worst example you could have chosen, because the coalition agreement specifically provided for Lib Dem abstention on that issue.

  • Charles Kennedy said that the Liberal Demcrats were not left nor right but FORWARD!

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Dec '12 - 11:11am

    OK Nick, we’ve got the message. No turning back; no ‘broad church’ anymore for the Lib Dems. You are happy in your narrow centrist ‘right-little-tight-little-party’. I don’t recall the memebership having much input into such a clear and fundamental change of direction for the party. At least you now accept that there IS a left-right political spectrum; something in your previous speeches and pronouncements you were reluctant to do.

  • jedi,
    you missed out a word. That word was laughable.

    Hannan is a comedy polemicist who doesn’t even believe what he says – or if he does is a fool. He takes predictions and projections as fact, he cites himself as a reliable source and he continues in the vain hope he will finally convince himself. And that’s just in that single blog post.

    Substituting his own name for that of his target in the final paragraph would actually come closer to the mark:
    “The truth is that, for Dan Hannan, it isn’t really about facts at all. It’s about showing what a nice, reasonable person you are. The trouble is that his definition of reasonableness has moved further and further away from the country’s. If he spoke and thought in cant just a little less, he might see it.”

  • Pretty much agreed with every word of nicks speech. At the next election we will be a united party with acheivements to be proud of & real ideas about how to go forward. Both of our main rivals will be divided & looking backward.

  • @paul barker

    ” Both of our main rivals will be divided & looking backward.”

    And you do not think Liberal democrats will be divided & looking backward?

    I am pretty sure they will, especially amongst those Mp’s sitting in marginal seats

    And you only need to look to the differences between conference and the way your MP’s have voted, they are totally at odds with one another.

  • matt,
    in your time on this site you may have started to notice how LibDems enjoy nothing better than a good political debate.

    We actively seek to disagree with each other because that’s how we drill down to the heart of the matter and uncover the best answer. We continue until we reach resolution – that’s the democratic dynamism we engender.

    So for Conference and leading MPs to disagree is nothing new, it’s actually more of a right of passage. It is a positive which we cling to as a demonstration of our commitment to the political process over the sham public relations exercises operated elsewhere.

    Don’t be mistaken, when we reach a properly reasoned decision we are unshakable in our resolution. Compromising is simply how we start to win over our opponents.

    Clearly you enjoy dipping your toes in the water, so why not dive in? The water is wonderful, just so long as you know how to swim!

  • @Oranjepan

    I do not disagree with anything you have written.

    I was merely pointing out to paul barker that there “are” and will “be” just as many divisions and looking backwards in the Libdems as the other 2 main political parties.

    On a wider note though, I thought Nick Cleggs speech was very poor. 90% of it directed at welfare which will end up tying the party ever closer to the Tories and will further damage the party

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Dec '12 - 1:11pm

    @Simon Shaw

    You have clearly misunderstood what I have said and I didn’t even hint at the party being ever once to the left of Labour, or wanting it to go there. I cannot imagine that many would disagree that the Liberal Party and the Lib Dems were once a centre/left political party; most commentators have said that and the membership from the 1960s, to the 1990s will tell you that. The party has clearly made a fundamental change; Nick Clegg says so in the first paragraph of his speech.

  • matt,
    did you listen to the speech, or did you just read it?

  • Steve, Simon,
    why do you care about left and right? these are merely relative terms judged according to the general position of other parties.

    I’d rather LibDems were described in terms of our support for liberalism and democracy. That’s the only way we can start setting the political agenda, which is the only way we will ever introduce true liberalism and balanced democracy.

  • @Oranjepan


  • Alex Matthews 18th Dec '12 - 2:55pm

    @Alex=Can you explain to me why someone who has turned down 3 different job offers should be given any support by society? I am going to guess you say “crime”, and sadly you are probably right they will turn to crime, but the fact is that if someone turns down 3 different job offers in a row, they clearly have no drive to work so society should not support them. Remember, the price of Liberalism is that you must take full responsibility for your actions, and if they wish to turn to crime rather than work, then that is their choice and society should not allow a fear of their foolish choices to hold us hostage.

    My thoughts on this speech. Overall he is right, being in government is hard, a good government sometimes has to make hard choices and always accepts that their is no perfect answer. His point that it is easy to criticise is a very profound one to me because in my experience British society is very quick to judge, but not always so good at actually making any real contribution to solving the problems.

    I also agree with his point about the centre, now to me, the centre ground means that you use the best, evidence based policy available regardless of where it came from, and I believe that is why we are the centre ground party because that is what we try to do. Now, this ‘government’ is a right wing government, yes, but I have news for you, it is a partnership with the Conservatives and I have been told they are quite right wing, so maybe that is not really that shocking. However, if you judge our party in government by its own actions, not the acts forced upon it by the right, then you will see that it is still trying to implement fair and reasonable policy.

    Now, there are things in this speech which I can see people taking offence at, like his comments on disability benefits, which is very much trying to put a positive spin on a difficult situation, but overall I think he is right if we want to be a serious party which does more than cries indignantly from the wings, then we have to realise that sometimes there are tough choices to be made and realistic issues to be tackled. It is easy for people to criticise Clegg and the leadership for dancing with the devil, but I think though mistakes have been made and things have been done or said that I disagree with, they on the whole have fought hard in difficult times to bring about as a fair situation as they could and bashing them because of your hatred of the Tories is unfair, as is the mistaken belief that labour are somehow a better option.

  • David Allen 18th Dec '12 - 5:41pm

    “I think it is totally correct to say that the Liberals/Lib Dems were and are a centre/centre-left party (and, to be clear, not just a centre-left party). I don’t think that has changed.”

    So, we’re going to steer a clear course, west north-west by west, are we? With angels dancing on a pinhead at our prow?

  • Simon,
    this is where I repeat a hackneyed line and link it to the left-centre-right debate – there’s no one-size fits all solution.

    There is always a balance to be struck, and we will only convince a majority after showing our reasons.

    well I only read it, so I can’t comment on the presentation. However I never feel we come at party leaders speeches with a completely clear slate.

  • “That’s why opposition parties are so good at spending ‘savings’ two, three or four times over. Play budgeting with play money.
    But in government, we’ve not been able to do that.
    We know from experience now: if you protect the health and education budgets, as we correctly did, you can’t oppose every reduction in the welfare budget.
    If you want to protect welfare as well, you’ve got to accept that you’ll end up gutting the crime budget, or the BIS budget, or local government. We get that now.”

    This is an amazingly frank admission, but I must admit I’m still not clear exactly what Nick Clegg is admitting to. Surely not even he could have failed to understand that you can’t spend the same money four times over? Presumably the lesson he’s learned is that it’s dangerous to tell the electorate things you know aren’t true, because if you end up in government you will come badly unstuck.

    Much as I’m in favour of politicians being more honest, I’m flabbergasted that he has made this admission, particularly in a major speech. Would it not be a good idea in future for him to have his utterances vetted by more experienced colleagues?

  • @Oranjepan

    more than anything else, I am just shocked to see a leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, trotting out the sort of guff that is more expected from a Tory Leader when it comes to welfare.

    When Clegg talks of his support for the policy “That’s why we’ve introduced the rule that anyone who refuses a reasonable job offer will have their benefits docked, and anyone who refuses three will get no JSA at all for three years.”
    These “reasonable job offers” the policy refers to are not necessarily “full time paid work” they also refer to “workfare” where a claimant can be forced to work up to 6 months full time for a supermarket in exchange for retaining their JSA. There are so many things wrong with that policy, where do you even begin, Not only is it damaging to society, but it does absolutely nothing to help reduce the unemployment figures, in fact, I would have thought it hinders.

    The 1% rise in benefits is a disgrace. Clegg not only defends the policy, but he clearly openly supports it. He is no better than a Tory when he pushes the myth about the welfare bill spiralling out of control is because of the workless shirkers, when in truth over 50% of the welfare budget is spent on people of pensionable age, the next biggest bill is spent on working tax credits, Third is housing benefit, which is claimed by pensioners, people in work, as well as those out of work through sickness or unemployment, the fourth largest expenditure on welfare is disability benefits and in actual fact the total amount of the welfare budget spent on unemployment benefits, equates to about 5% of the actual welfare bill. So why does Nick Clegg continue along with this distortion of the facts that is so loved by the Tories and the media and continue to pedal the myth that the welfare budget has spiralled out of control because of the “shirkers”
    It really does not seem like the kind of language you would expect from a Liberal party leader.

  • Before anyone jumps on my previous post, I was not “misrepresenting” Clegg in my last sentence. I was not implying Clegg has used the word “shirkers” what I meant was Clegg is peddling the myth that supports “others” use of the word

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Dec '12 - 9:58pm

    Just checked the constitution:
    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

    It speaks eloquently and inspiringly of our commitment to the environment and sustainability, to individual and social justice, rejecting all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and opposing all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality; of a just distribution of the rewards of success, of social provision and public services; of internationalism, federalism and localism.

    In short it is a radical political agenda.

    Search as I might however, I could not find any reference to us being a centre party, of the promised land lying on the centre ground or us positioning ourselves on some simplistic left-right spectrum.

    The constitution proves, if proof be needed, that, at our best, we are more radical than Labour but never, ever, as reactionary as the Tories!

    In attempting to portray us as occupying the centre ground Nick Clegg actually belittles what he and our party have actually achieved in government. Our progressive tax, social and (for the most part) environmental policies are not centrist.

    If we allow Labour to portray us as being centre-right Tory stooges and the Conservatives to continue block moderate demands for social and economic justice, come the next election we will surely be crushed in their joint pincer movement. We don’t just need to change the debate; we need to change its very language. Clegg did well in the last general election debates by presenting our distinctive Liberal Democrat agenda not by positioning us somewhere between Labour and Tory camps!

    I am certain there is more popular mileage in highlighting companies and the wealthy paying a fair share of tax than on claiming to be the party of welfare reform. We need to be pointing out the true balance between avoided tax and over-claimed welfare payments.

    I think the national mood is for real change, not unlike that after the Second World War. When that tide flowed even the hero of the hour and saviour of the free world was unable to resist it.

    Forget the soggy centre ground; we need to ensure we don’t miss the tide!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Dec '12 - 9:18am

    Chris, I think he was referring to Labour, who, after all, used to tell us when they were in Government that they were spending the same money over and over again and now in opposition are doing what they like.

    Our manifestos have always been costed to within an inch of their lives – possibly too much so.

  • Caron

    Do you really believe that?

    If he were referring to Labour, why on earth would he say “We know from experience now” and “We get that now”? Clearly the implication is that “we” – not someone else – didn’t get it before!

  • matt,
    you’re only shocked because you set out to be shocked.

    Firstly you complain about presentation, then you complain about content. Then you take issue with the definitions used. I don’t accept your criticisms, you’re constantly shifting your goalposts.

    The lack of evidence you can find is not proof of the opposite.

  • @orangepan.

    Erm, I don;t think I did “complain” about presentation or content. What I said was I am shocked that a Liberal Democrat leader would adopt these policies, not only accepting them as part of the price of coalition but embracing them as part of their own party policy.

    And what lack of evidence are you referring to? I think it is quite clear the direction the party is taking on welfare and my opinion is that they are wrong. how is that a lack of evidence?

  • So I am wondering what would Nick Cleggs response be to the fact that many families inc those in work are now having turn more and more to charitable foodbanks?

    When Cameron was pressed on the surge in the use of food banks, Cameron praised the role of volunteers who were “part of what I call the big society” Clearly the Tories are very comfortable with the increase in child poverty and hunger and his vision of the Big Society to step in where it should be the responsibility of the state.

    Clegg has outlined his support for the cuts to welfare and it would appear would even be adopting the same policy if he were in a majority government.

  • matt,
    you should re-read your comments. I’ll draw your attention to a phrase you use : ‘not necessarily’. Starting with such a caveat means the logic of your argument also does not necessarily follow.

    It’s like saying IF the world ends tomorrow then it will be a terrible thing. Yes, if.

  • @orangepan

    Are you suggesting that my comments regarding “That’s why we’ve introduced the rule that anyone who refuses a reasonable job offer will have their benefits docked, and anyone who refuses three will get no JSA at all for three years.” does not apply to the workfare programme and lacked evidence?

    I think you will find there is plenty of evidence available to support that.

    And if you are just being pedantic over my use of grammar, then that’s not really being very constructive towards sensible debate and I am not going to waste my energies on the likes of that. However, if you wish to discuss the actual topics of conversation and evidence then I am more than happy to do so

  • matt,
    OK, re-read the speech.

    “fantasy world… where every budget reduction can be opposed without explaining where the money should come from…”

    You’re proposing an idealistic position, Clegg says this is unsustainable in the current reality unless you can provide more detail. More borrowing is out of the question, tax rises jeopardise the economy and we have already printed huge amounts of money.

    I’m tempted by gradual raising of interest rates to stimulate savings and inject liquidity, but the effect would be slow to be felt, and it’s the remit of the BoE anyway.

  • @orangepan

    It is not my job to tell the government where to cut spending elsewhere, though there are many other departments which could have been cut.
    The government could have kept the 50% tax increase, but they chose to cut it. This waffle about the 50% tax “decreased” tax intakes .
    From the website Fact Check
    “In HMRC’s own words:
    “…there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax.”
    This suggests that the figures for 2009-10 are larger than would have otherwise been the case if the policy hadn’t been announced and these people hadn’t brought forward their declared income (certain people can alter the ‘timing’ of their income, sometimes to avoid changes in rates). HMRC confirm this in their latest statistics release:
    “Forestalling in 2009-10 exerts a significant influence on the projected profile of combined liabilities due at higher and additional rates of tax. These are projected to have fallen in 2010-11 as incomes for the richest decline from forestalled to below ‘normal levels’, but recover in later years as these special factors subside, and economic recovery is assumed to build.””

    If the 50% rate of tax had been kept, it would have ended up raising more revenue and we would not have had to keep cutting welfare as harshly as this government is doing, but as always, this government is on the side of the rich.

    We have a responsibility as a society to look after the most vulnerable people in society, it is not the job of the “big society” to provide foodbanks to feed families

  • matt,
    the evidence you provide does not support the conclusion you reach; forestalling does not preclude off-shoring.

    The secondary implication of your claim is that off-shoring taxable incomes either stayed stable or reduced during the same period – which is contrary to the evidence provided to the Public Accounts Committee.

    Frankly, your imperial economics belongs in the 19th century. With a single market and freedom of labour, tax competition is a reality that cannot be ignored.

    So taking decisions which unilaterally narrow the tax base not only introduces additional volatility to the public finances, but it also creates the conditions for this volatility to tip the wider economy into a vicious spiral by undermining the rationale and process of political integration which has been the basis of economic growth and security since the last protectionist phase of history.

    Whether a narrow calculation of actual revenues collected by the Treasury shows a relative increase in the period is both highly dubious and totally irrelevant beside the more important point of the longer-term balance and continued progress.

    But we’ve been through this all before, 45% is a compromise that is right for the time being. Labour may have said 50% and the Tories may have said 40%, but those were just warm words. Neither could deliver – even if they really wanted to.

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