A Fresh Start for Britain website goes live

by Stephen Tall on July 22, 2009

To chime with Nick Clegg’s launch today of the pre-manifesto ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’ document, there is a smart, fresh website: www.freshstart.nickclegg.com.

For those who prefer just text, the document is reproduced in its entirity, below:

A Fresh Start for Britain:
Choosing a different, better future

Dear friend,

Ever since I became leader of the Liberal Democrats I have been travelling the country, holding public meetings, listening and talking to the people I meet. The economy is in a mess, people are losing jobs and everywhere I go, people are angry at the way politicians have let them down.

The two old parties don’t really want to change a political system that keeps them in power or challenge the bankers who got the economy into such a terrible mess. The next election will be your chance to tell them they’re wrong – your chance to vote for something different.

Many people believed they would get change for the better in 1997. Instead, under Labour, the gap between rich and poor has got bigger, our politics has got even dirtier, our civil liberties have been eroded, the environment around us is in danger and our international reputation is at a new low. Labour let us all down.

The Conservatives say they want change but all they really want is to keep things the way they are. They say they want fairness but demand tax cuts for millionaires. They say they want to protect the environment, but have linked up in Europe with people who deny climate change is a problem at all. They will promise everything and change nothing.

Britain is in the teeth of three crises: a huge banking crisis and recession, a rotten Westminster system abused by too many MPs for personal gain, and the threat of climate change. We need big changes to fix our economy, our discredited politics and our environment, yet both Labour and the Conservatives are letting the City, the House of Commons and polluters off the hook. No action against bankers’ bonuses. No action to give people the right to sack MPs guilty of breaking the rules. No action to slash emissions. They say just enough to get in the headlines, but when the spotlight moves on it’s back to business as usual.

I believe there’s a better way. This country can be fairer, it can be safer, greener, and stronger in the world. Only the Liberal Democrats have the ideas, the energy, and the ambition to provide the new hope the country needs. If that’s what you want too, after twelve years of Labour disappointment, turn to us. We carry the torch of progress now.

Despite all the gloomy news, there’s still real hope for the future – but only if we make a fresh start. We need strong leadership and a different kind of politics to make it happen. The way things have always been done has got us into this mess, and it will never get us out.

Above all, we must do everything to protect the next generation from the mistakes made today. For me, how we treat young children is the most important measure of what kind of society we want, what kind of values we hold dear.

Even in these difficult times, giving all children from all backgrounds the life chances they deserve will always be my personal priority.

So if you want things to be different, choose a party that is different. Choose the Liberal Democrats.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg

Change for real, change for good

Britain is in crisis, the worst in modern times. People are right to be angry. There is a great deal to be angry about.

The economy is in a mess, but the people responsible are still in charge. The political system is rotten, but the establishment is still blocking change. The gap between rich and poor keeps growing, making British society so unequal that everybody suffers. Dangerous climate change threatens us all, but world leaders won’t act.

This isn’t just about policies. It is a moral crisis. Labour and Conservative leaders don’t want to change a system that has helped them rise to the top, even though it means everyone else suffers.

This is a chance to force change to happen. Labour and the Conservatives have had decades to get things right but chose to look the other way while bankers gambled with people’s jobs, and politicians forgot that they should serve the country, not themselves. Meanwhile, they’ve let levels of inequality grow and allowed climate change to threaten our very way of life. The two old parties have had their chances and failed.

There is only one party that understands the true scale of the mess the country is in, from banking, through politics, to the environment and growing social divisions. There is only one party that is being straight about how we can put things right: the Liberal Democrats.

These crises cannot be allowed to happen again. The old system that created the problems doesn’t need to be fixed – it has to be replaced so that our children don’t pay the price for today’s failures.

If you are happy with the way things are, the Liberal Democrats are not the party for you. If you want business as usual, choose Labour or the Conservatives – we know they won’t really change anything.

But if you want things to be different, really different, choose the party that is different – the Liberal Democrats. There is hope for a different future, a different way of doing things in Britain, if we’re brave enough to make a fresh start. The Liberal Democrats are ready to make it happen.

Principles for government

Given the economic circumstances and uncertainty about the state of public finances, it would be utterly dishonest for anyone to claim they know what the next government will be able to afford. The only certainty is that the next government will have to make very hard choices about spending – cuts will be necessary to deliver any priorities.

Many of the changes we want to make to the way the country is run do not cost money – they’re about doing things differently. But others do require investment, so we need to be sure the money is available before we start to make promises. With the country’s economic future so difficult to predict, that needs to be done as close as possible to a general election.

We therefore make two pledges about any commitment related to money which we will make in our General Election manifesto. First, any new spending will be paid for by a specific cut made elsewhere, to ensure it is deliverable even in these tough economic times. This means we will not increase public spending overall. Second, the tax cuts we propose to help those on low and middle incomes will not be funded by cuts in services, but by making taxes fairer and greener, so that the richest pay their fair share and polluters pay for the damage they cause.

Over the next year, as more detail becomes available about the exact state of the government finances and the economy, we will be able to confirm a full manifesto, built from this blueprint and adapted to the economic circumstances of the moment. We will only include policies in our programme for government once we are certain the necessary resources are available.

But while nobody can yet be certain what the country can afford, we can be certain about the values and principles that will guide us in the tough choices that lie ahead. The priorities which follow, driven by the values we hold dear, will guide our choices about where savings can be made and where new investment and ideas are needed. Unlike Labour or Conservatives, the British people can be certain that any hard choices made by Liberal Democrats will be firmly guided by our values.

Priority 1: Creating a sustainable economy

We will be honest about what the country can afford, and change the system to create a stable economy that keeps people in work, protects and enhances our environment and ensures the mistakes that caused the recession don’t happen again. That means:

• Putting Britain back to work and fighting climate change through investment in green economic growth to create jobs, renewable energy, affordable homes and green infrastructure.
• A totally new approach to banking, so that excessive risk-taking by bankers doesn’t jeopardise the whole economy again. We will split up the biggest banks, so that high-risk casino banking does not put ordinary people’s savings at risk.

Priority 2: Building a fair society
We will empower every individual and community, fighting disadvantage and entrenched inequality. That means:

• Fairer taxes to lift the burden on ordinary people and make sure the richest pay their fair share. We have already set out plans to reduce taxes on hard-pressed low and middle income people – paid for by closing unfair loopholes that increase the gap between rich and poor. Four million more people on low incomes will pay no income tax at all under our plans.
• Giving every child the very best start in life. We want to invest in support for children and young people so that the next generation doesn’t pay the price for mistakes made today. Action in the earliest years – like our plan to cut class sizes – is critical to tackling the entrenched disadvantage which takes root in early childhood that so disfigures Britain.

Priority 3: Cleaning up politics
We will promote openness, decentralisation, accessibility and accountability, so that politicians really listen to people, understand and act. That means:

• Cleaning up Westminster. Millions of people are being betrayed – Labour and the Conservatives have gone back to business as usual after the expenses scandal. We will reform expenses, end big donations, elect the House of Lords, cut the power of Ministers, reduce the number of MPs, and give local people the right to sack any MP who’s found guilty of serious wrongdoing.
• Fair votes. To deliver the radical shake up that the British people demand, we will make sure every vote counts so that safe seats are a thing of the past and MPs are forced to listen to the people they represent.

Public spending: our approach

We need to ensure that the next generation does not pay the price for the mistakes made by government and bankers today. This requires a clear and convincing plan to reduce public borrowing to prudent levels in a way that allows continued investment where it matters most.

The short-term priority is to fight growing unemployment which requires maintaining government investment. We do not support Conservative proposals to cut spending immediately, as that would aggravate recession, hurt businesses and increase unemployment.

But unlike Labour, we see that once Britain’s economy has recovered, we need extremely strict and continued discipline over public spending to reduce public borrowing to prudent, sustainable, levels.

In order to ensure continued investment in key priorities, we will identify big areas of public spending where long-term savings can be made such as:

• The centralised state – removing the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised command-and-control state, and proliferating quangos and databases.
• Defence procurement – there should be no like-for-like replacement of Trident.
• Public sector pensions – we will honour all commitments which have already been made but examine ways to keep the cost of future obligations, particularly to the higher paid, under much tighter control.
• Higher education – while we need to make admissions fairer, we do not believe that the arbitrary target of expansion to 50% of young people going to university is achievable or affordable.
• Tax credits – these currently extend to high earners, which fails to put the resources where they are really needed, and the system is far too complex.

Applicability
Liberal Democrats have championed the devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales, and many decisions made in Westminster now apply to England only. That means that policies in those nations are increasingly different from those in England – reflecting different choices, priorities and circumstances. Our Scottish and Welsh Parties make their own policy on those issues. This document sets out our priorities for a Liberal Democrat government in Westminster.