Clegg on Brown's mini-manifesto: "a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes"

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2009

Gordon Brown yesterday set out his policy plans for the next year, with headline proposals including:

  • 110,000 affordable homes by 2011;
  • changes to council house allocation rules which may give more preference to local residents
  • under-25s out of work for a year must accept a job or training or face benefit cuts
  • new guarantees on hospital treatment and school tuition;
  • communities to have say on police priorities and siting of CCTV.
  • Here’s the Hansard transcript of how Nick Clegg responded for the Lib Dems:

    Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives have just perfected their fake debate on public spending, yet both are treating voters as if they are children, too young to know the truth. This morning, the Government have reneged on their promise to hold a comprehensive spending review before the next election, and the Conservatives are not going to decide on their cuts until the day after it. Neither is willing to come clean on the difficult long-term savings we will need to make to balance the nation’s books. It is like a big hoax—they trade insults and numbers, but hide the truth.

    There are some announcements—or, rather, re-announcements—that I welcome, not least the ongoing consultation to give local authorities control over housing rents and revenues, the proposals for an elected House of Lords and the commitment to give all young people under 25 a guaranteed job or training place. As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail. This is the 11th announcement on housing since September. The Government’s consultation on housing revenue has been grinding on since January, yet 1.8 million people are still waiting for a decent home.

    We have been debating reform of the House of Lords—the other place—for more than a century, so now is the time for action, not simply more proposals. The Prime Minister is still silent on some of the wider more radical political reforms we need to clean up British politics once and for all. The hopes of young people to avoid the scrapheap of long-term unemployment must not be dashed in practice once again.

    In the drum roll of advance media leaks, we were promised a vision of the future from the Government based on decentralisation and personal entitlements. I welcome any recognition from a party and a Government of arch centralisers that they have got it wrong and that the levers of Whitehall do not provide all the answers. Yet many of the so-called personal entitlements are, on closer inspection, just the recycled versions of the old targets. Suddenly, the target to receive an operation within 18 weeks of seeing a GP is called an entitlement. Last week, the Prime Minister called the cuts an investment; this week, he is calling a target an entitlement, so can he tell us exactly what is the difference?

    When one scratches beneath the rhetoric, the long screwdriver of Whitehall is still in place, because the Prime Minister, the great godfather of big government still cannot really let go. Even as we speak, his Government are giving his Education Secretary—where is he? He is not here—153 new powers in the Apprenticeship, Skills and Learning Bill, including the power to hand-pick children’s school books. Is that what he calls “giving power away”? If the Prime Minister really wanted to make sure investment followed individuals, he would have announced a school funding premium tied directly to the most disadvantaged pupils so that they can get the personalised support and tuition that they need on their terms.

    Given the likelihood that many of the Prime Minister’s proposals will not make it off the pages of the Government’s press release and are unlikely to work in practice, does he agree with a senior Government official quoted in today’s Financial Times who admitted that this Government have

    “a fixation on producing endless policy documents—a total lack of interest in delivery”?

    All in all, the Prime Minister’s statement was a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes—a ministerial cut-and-paste job scraped together by a Government without a unifying vision and a Prime Minister running out of steam.