What’s the difference between Ryan Giggs and Ed Miliband? Nick Clegg tells all…

In the USA they have the White House correspondents’ dinner, an occasion for leading politicians to take pot-shots at the media, themselves, and – most crucially – their opponents. Barack Obama’s quip-assault on Donald Trump ended the wannabe Republican presidential hopes before they’d begun.

The UK has no equivalent, but (as PoliticsHome’s Paul Waugh notes) the Parliamentary Press Gallery lunches are the nearest equivalent. And today was Nick Clegg’s turn to convey a serious message… whilst landing a jab or two. So, who was in Nick’s sights? Step forward Labour’s troubled leader Ed Miliband, and one-time rival Chris Huhne.

Here’s how Paul relates it:

Nick Clegg didn’t disappoint. Like all his predecessors, he managed to give us hacks what we want: a news story and some excellent gags.

The best feature of making gentle jokes at colleagues’ expense is that you can of course hide more than a grain of truth in the humour.

He had a neat joke about Ed Miliband and Ryan Giggs: “One’s a fading left winger who’s upset his brother. The other’s a footballer.”

But it was the DPM’s line about Chris Huhne – “Whatever people say about Chris Huhne, I don’t know any politician better at getting his point across” – that was a classic.

Clegg admitted that it was a bit of “belated revenge” for Huhne’s own coining of the phrase ‘Calamity Clegg’. That was way back in 2007, so this certainly was a dish best served ice cold.

Then again, it must also underline just how safe Huhne is that the DPM can afford to make such a joke. The odds on Huhne being charged by the cops are lengthening by the day.

Clegg was also keen to ram home his claim that it’s not progressive to maintain a record deficit, something he described as “a form of intergenerational theft”. His line about Plan B standing for “bankruptcy” was a strong hit back at Ed Balls.

But it wasn’t all jokes, as the Guardian relates:

Clegg said he believed his party would eventually reap the electoral benefit of the tough decisions taken over the past year, but admitted he did not like some of the measures he has had to implement in government as part of the drive to eliminate the deficit by 2015. “There are things we are having to do which we would rather not,” he said. “I don’t relish having to make these very big cuts and savings.”

Nick’s biggest regret? Not surprising: tuition fees, and in particular the Coalition’s inability to sell a higher education package that will cost all graduates less in repayments than the current system of fees introduced by the last Labour government (and if you don’t want to take my word for it, click here).

As Paul Waugh notes Nick lamenting:

“Have we failed to get across the message that they are a kind of time-limited graduate tax? Yes. Bluntly, we clealry haven’t got that message across. We have failed to explain [it]”

At the height of the row over tuition fees, the Lib Dem leader calling them a graduate tax would have been a bit of a story. (Indeed Cable was barred by the Treasury from using the t-word).

Clegg’s lament certainly reflects the view of many in his party that the Coalition should have sold their policy as a graduate tax to win more support.

Which is a punchline that won’t raise many laughs in the Lib Dems.

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  • ” a higher education package that will cost all graduates less in repayments than the current system of fees introduced by the last Labour government ”

    The reason they can’t sell it is that it isn’t true. Even the website you cite doesn’t support your claim. Yes, some people will have lower monthly repayments but in general people will be paying for much longer and will end up paying much more. Yes, the threshold at which you start to repay is higher( though a good deal of the difference will be eroded by inflation) but surely you are not seriously expecting people to believe that borrowing 27K will be cheaper than borrowing 9K.

  • Essentially students who are basic rate taxpayers graduating in 2015 under the new system will be better off in take home pay as a whole than those graduating in 2010.

    They will benefit from the personal allowance which if it goes up to £10,000 is worth £700 a year – paying an extra £18k over 30 years is £600 on average a year. Technically £100 better off in the pay packet – averaging the extra costs of the tuition fees – there is though that there is real rate of interest for some and the personal allowance would probably have risen by inflation but £10k is considerably above inflation.

    BTW – the threshold rises by average earnings from 2017 – which is better than previously.

  • Daniel Henry 17th Jun '11 - 1:16am

    AndrewR, because the monthly repayments are lower, and because the debt is dropped after 30 years, the lowest earning graduates will end up paying significantly less than they would have under the old system. I can’t remember the exact statistic, but I think it was a third of the lowest paying graduates would pay less under this new system.

  • Ruth Bright 17th Jun '11 - 8:44am

    Nick Clegg calls Ed Miliband a national joke. Takes one to know one.

  • David Pollard 17th Jun '11 - 10:37am

    To complete the camaign on graduate tax, Nick Clegfg should apologise for signing the pledge to vote against and promise never again to sign a pledge about anything.
    As far as the graduate tax itself is concerned, graduates should pay it willingly, because of the benefits they receive from going to university.

  • “as if it matters what the university gets upfront to provide the tuition”

    of course it matters what the university gets upfront – if they can’t cover their costs they will lower the quality and/or quantity of the tuition or fold.

  • @Daniel Henry
    Yes some people will pay less but that is not the claim the article is making. It says “all graduates” will pay less which is simply not true. Now, being charitable, perhaps Stephen meant monthly repayments will be less but there is no doubt that total repayments will be much more for the majority. After all, raising much more money from graduates is the whole point of the policy. As this isn’t an article about higher education I don’t want to rehash all the arguments except to say there is no doubt in my mind that coalition policy is going to be an utter disaster for higher education in this country. Howard Hotson’s article in the LRB is an interesting read for those who think we should be moving to a US type model Don’t look to the Ivy League

  • duncan greenland 17th Jun '11 - 12:10pm

    @ Alistair

    Are those really the only options that a university has ? Might they not also take a hard look at their cost base and see whether there is scope for costs to be reduced without affecting either the quality or the quantity of tuition.

    State schools are required to teach 39 weeks a year for upwards of 25 hours a week ..Universities provide tuition for an average of 23 weeks and in humanities/social science subjects for only10-14 hours a week. Across a mixture of seminars and lectures,average class sizes in universities are if anything larger than in schools.

    It is very hard to see why the delivery cost (and so the tuition fee ) needs to be £9000.

  • Andrew, if you want to believe that the problem with Tuition fees is merely presentational then you are free so to do. You’re in good company though – as Clegg also appears to believe that.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Jun '11 - 3:32pm

    @ David Pollard
    “Nick Clegg should apologise for signing the pledge to vote against and promise never again to sign a pledge about anything”.

    So would you like him to sign a pledge not to sign any more pledges? Do you think he could be trusted to honour such a pledge?

  • David Allen 17th Jun '11 - 6:16pm

    Sounds as if inebriated, Nick not Clegg. Why didn’t you sign the pledge…?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 18th Jun '11 - 5:47pm

    @ D A
    Sorry. I was being light-hearted. And I have not had a drink today (I’m about to rectify that situation). In considering “Calamity” Clegg’s performance in government, one has to laugh. The alternative is to weep.

  • Paul McKeown 19th Jun '11 - 1:03am

    Some nice gags. Well said, Cleggie!

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