Clegg's Fresh Start for Britain: education, 'green jobs', political reform

by Stephen Tall on July 22, 2009

There’s an in-depth interview with Nick Clegg in today’s Independent trailing the launch later today of ‘A Fresh Start for Britain’, a document outlining the principles on which the Lib Dems will build our general election manifesto.

Here’s how the article starts:

Nick Clegg will today jettison many of the Liberal Democrats’ long-standing policy pledges in an attempt to convince voters they would make the deep spending cuts needed to fill the hole in the public finances.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Clegg revealed that many of the promises cherished by his party will be downgraded from official policy to “aspirations” since there would be no money to fund them. They are expected to include flagship pledges to scrap university tuition fees, provide free personal care for the elderly, and bring in a higher basic state pension.

The Liberal Democrat leader will ask his party’s conference in September to make firm commitments in just three areas at the general election: a boost for education, the creation of “green jobs”, and constitutional reform.

Here are Nick’s quotes from the interview:

The circumstances are utterly different from anything in the last 15 years. Our shopping list of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter. We will have to ask ourselves some immensely difficult questions about what we as a party can afford. A lot of cherished Lib Dem policies will have to go on the back burner. They will remain our aspirations. They will remain our policies. But we are not going to kid the British people into thinking we could deliver the full list of commitments we have put to them at the last three or four elections.

“I hope people will understand these are aspirations we will maintain but that, in these completely different circumstances, you can’t carry on promising the same menu of goodies. It is just not plausible. “The blunt truth is that everything is vulnerable. All the aspirations remain. We are setting out the criteria by which the Lib Dems will pick and choose from that menu.

“All parties need to fight the election in a very different set of financial circumstances. We have operated in a period of largesse, when it has been very easy to appear to be generous. We now have a huge structural deficit akin to having fought a major war. If we don’t sort it, we risk further economic meltdown.”

And here’s the Indy’s list of ‘safe’ spending commitments, and those which will be ‘downgraded’ to ‘aspirations’:

Safe policies

* Education £2.5bn “pupil premium” for a million children from disadvantaged backgrounds, smaller classes and extra tuition.

* Tax Raise personal allowance to £10,000, reducing bills for most earners by £705 a year, funded by £17bn package of tax increases including abolition of top-rate tax relief for pension contributions and closing tax loopholes.

* “Green jobs” Package to create zero-carbon homes, insulate existing homes, schools and hospitals, and expand rail network.

* Political reform To clean up politics after MPs’ expenses scandal, including proportional representation for Commons, elected House of Lords and state funding for parties.

Under threat

* Universities Free tuition for first undergraduate degrees for full and part-time students.

* Care Free personal care for those over 65 at cost of £2bn.

* Pensions Higher “citizen’s pension” with immediate restoration of link between state pension and earnings.

* Disabled £200 a year winter fuel payment.

* Post offices £2bn pledge to keep open rural post offices.

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“many of the promises cherished by his party will be downgraded from official policy to “aspirations” since there would be no money to fund them.”

In which case shouldn’t our MPs stop calling for more government funding for Bletchley Park and a statutory duty to provide public loos?

by Hywel on July 22, 2009 at 10:29 am. Reply #

“..But he floated the idea of an “inter-generational deal” under which people agree to bring down the public deficit so that tomorrow’s generation is not saddled with crippling debts.”

This slimline strategy with educations, green jobs and constit reform is risky, because by putting policies favored by the elderly on the back-burner, we could lose some local level support. However, its bold and ambitious. Nice one Nick. This is the kind of leadership the party has needed for a long time.

by Kasch on July 22, 2009 at 10:45 am. Reply #

“Nick Clegg will today jettison many of the Liberal Democrats’ long-standing policy pledges …”

I assume this jettisoning of long-standing pledges by Nick Clegg will all be subject to the party’s democratic policy-making processes.

by Herbert Brown on July 22, 2009 at 10:54 am. Reply #

@Hywel
I think Bletchley Park (BTW a volunteer operation) would be very happy with one percent of the amount the MOD has ‘lost’ on missing radios – which was £155m according to the NAO. It would be kind of appropriate as well.

re the main article – I’m not sure where Nick is going with this. Are we starting a cutting war with the Tories?
How will that go down on the door step. it does not seem an attractive USP to me.

by simonsez on July 22, 2009 at 10:57 am. Reply #

I hope Clegg decides to keep the abolition of tuition fees and from what I’ve heard he will.

by Thomas on July 22, 2009 at 11:02 am. Reply #

Surely it is for the party to decide. Otherwise it may not help in our university seats. But maybe it would also be better if not so many people went to uni?

by Biodiesel on July 22, 2009 at 11:06 am. Reply #

@simonsez

Yes I accept that the funding Bletchley Park requires is a tiny amount (and can probably be found in small change in the back of one of the No 10 sofas).

However it is a philosophical point that if we are saying as regards the big picture, “not a lot of money it will be hair shirt time”, then it’s inconsistent for party spokespeople, MPs etc, to end every statement with a call for more spending.

By my reckoning of the 17 press releases on the front page of the party website at least 6 include a call for extra spending.

The policies above are basically hitching us to a “fiscal responsibility” manifesto. That only works if the narrative is completely consistent across our message.

by Hywel on July 22, 2009 at 12:33 pm. Reply #

@ Biodiesel,
It is for the party to decide on the policies – but it is for the parliamentary team to prepare a manifesto for Government, that contains those policies and there will necessarily be some prioritising there.

I have no doubt that some form of this document will be brought to Conference, just like Make It Happen was.

If we object to the prioritising, we can and should challenge it at conference.

by Grammar Police on July 22, 2009 at 12:37 pm. Reply #

@ Grammar Police

I don’t think this document and its set out priorities should be challenged to great extents at conference, because that is what has made this party’s policy structure so unstable in the past, and that reflects badly on the electorate.
I think in the times we face, its time for the party structure to trust the leadership on these priorities and get behind them, as it will ultimately lead to a more consistent image of what the LibDems represent.

by Kasch on July 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm. Reply #

It seems to me, that ‘three things’ is exceptionally powerful.

It can be very difficult to get one policy across in the maelstrom of political news. Having a set of three (lets face it, the 5 worked well for Labour in 1997) is easy to get across.

– Green Jobs – all good. Liberal, and Environmental.

– Education Spending – this can include tuition fee opposition if we like – and I will certainly be lobbying to keep this.

– Constitutional Reform – Ours to keep, and sorely needed.

Though I agree that there are concerns that some of our additional support for the elderly could be lost. However, we are – I believe – still aiming to re-instate the state pension once the recession.

by Henry on July 22, 2009 at 2:01 pm. Reply #

The pre-manifesto will require Conference’s approval just as it always has in the past.

by Paul Griffiths on July 22, 2009 at 2:07 pm. Reply #

Hywel – I think you’re right, but you’re assuming the party’s MPs are prepared to follow the lead of the leader. I’ve rarely seen this to be the case, and I would assume of sclerotic “anti-strategy” will continue.

I think it’s good Nick’s having a go at leading from the front, but there’s relatively little a party leader can do with any colleagues who might not be team players. If this wasn’t the case, we would have had the party singing to Clegg’s coherent narrative since he was elected.

Peter

by Peter on July 22, 2009 at 2:09 pm. Reply #

One thing was clear at FPC: no policy should be downgraded especially not the abolition of tuition fees. More from me anon!

by susan gaszczak on July 22, 2009 at 2:50 pm. Reply #

@ Kasch

I’m not saying this should be challenged, I’m saying that it is to be expected that the Parliamentary party/FPC will come up with documents like this, and it’s the wider membership’s opportunity to have their say at conference.

by Grammar Police on July 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm. Reply #

Apologies for my very brief comments earlier I was on a train, reading the debate from my dying mobile!

FPC has met several times in the last few weeks and after some long (5 hours in one case) debates agreed on this document. We were not involved in the communications strategy that has led to this piece in the Independent.

The document has now been published, and when you read it, you will have seen that it is not a two tier document it is a list a values and aspirations.

It is not costed and has no firm guarantees in it but it is highlighting all our policies. These remain policies of the party (with a small u-turn on Trident).

The pre manifesto still needs to go to conference, and it can still be amended by the party.

by Susan Gaszczak on July 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm. Reply #

I would suggest everyone reads the Independent article carefully. The article states that the party is to ‘jetison’ long-standing policies but that is very different to what they then quote Nick actually saying.

What Nick has said, which I think is very sensible, is that those policies remain our policies, but that we may not be in a position to promise to fund them all immediately.

As others have said the manifesto process will set out costed spending plans for the parliament following a discussion about priorities.

The reality that all serious parties face is that the public finances are in a mess and that whoever forms the next Government, they will have to work out how to plug the gap.

Some things we want to do don’t cost money, such as political reform, others involve switching money, such as fairer taxes. They should be at the forefront of our agenda.

One spending commitments we will have to make choices -about what we can and can’t afford to do, and on when we can afford to do them.

What this document DOES NOT do is change any existing policies.

by Liberal Neil on July 22, 2009 at 4:38 pm. Reply #

Susan

“The document has now been published, and when you read it, you will have seen that it is not a two tier document it is a list a values and aspirations.”

So either the article in the Independent is based on a complete misunderstanding, or someone has deliberately used it to convey an impression that’s quite different from the agreed policy document?

by Herbert Brown on July 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm. Reply #

I’ve written my usual extremely short sort of one-liner… Well, all right, it’s just a smidgeon longer than that. The basic idea’s good, the presentation’s good, but I reckon it makes two key mistakes.

And of course policies are still policies whether or not they’re in a Manifesto / pre-Manifesto. That’s not the point. The point is whether they’re priorities or not.

by Alex Wilcock on July 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm. Reply #

Heads up – Nick will be interviewed about A Fresh Start For Britain sometime on tonight’s Radio 4 PM programme, which has just started.

by Alex Wilcock on July 22, 2009 at 5:36 pm. Reply #

I think it does matter if they are in a manifesto or not.

It is on the manifesto that the election is fought and its literature presented.

If we start highlighting things not in a manifesto when in the past we have resiled from non-manifesto policies (drug reform, prisoner votes, rights for goldfish etc) when challenged on them it’s not likely to be very pretty.

Still, I always wonder about this raft of announcements at the beginning of summer before conference; it seems that because much has to be formally at least ratified by conference such announcements have to be quite minor restatements rather than things that might be argued and agreed at conference as fundamental changes in reaction to current circumstances.

The current situation is a great opportunity to reshape policy to be more liberal. To set out how we can not only get out of the debt and the crisis we are landed with but to do it in a way that ends up with a leaner, more entrepreneurial and more liberal state.

For example, I’d say that the longer term “aspiration” for higher education is that it should be a free market, with full costs reflected in prices but with a population that is wealthier because of a reduction in the intrusion of government, can save and make plans for themselves, and in which institutions are better able to keep the costs down for the less well off. Maintaining a “no fee” position is actually of tacitcal shorter term use in that sense rather than a longer aspirational time frame.

Furthermore, as a governor of a university, we are expecting that during the lifetime of the next parliament a big decision will have to be made by whoever is in charge on how to fund HE into the future. I dare say that other parties may also shy away from being clear on this – whether it is another £3,000 top up, or open pricing or what, but for us to sort of “muddle through” with an “aspiration” not to charge any fees, will not wash in university boardrooms up and down the country.

by Jock on July 22, 2009 at 5:52 pm. Reply #

“Furthermore, as a governor of a university, we are expecting that …”

Academia definitely isn’t what it was! I blame the “university boardrooms”.

by Herbert Brown on July 22, 2009 at 6:12 pm. Reply #

As it happens I am the non-teaching staff governor and probably one of the few in the UK not even to have a qualification to call my own!

Nonetheless, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that statement.

Speaking as a governor, we (my fellow governors and I) are expecting…

Does that clear things up for the pedantry around here or did you have a substantive point to make?

by Jock on July 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm. Reply #

There is a bit of semantics there Neil in that keeping a policy we no longer intend to make a priority to fund is, in practice very similar to jettisoning it.

That said we clearly can’t go into the next election with a platform of spending commitments we had in 2005, or even that we were advocating 12 months ago and there clearly needs to be some process for deciding what those priorities are.

Those who throw their hands up in horror and say “we can’t jettison [insert sacred cow]” only need to find a way in which it is affordable.

I’ve often had policy discussions with people which go something like this:

“But that’s unaffordable”
“Not if you stop the NHS being free at the point of use”
[Horrified response] “you couldn’t do that”
“I agree but that’s because we set different priorities, if you make something a priority it can be done”.

The key moment in landing men on the moon and erradicating smallpox were when someone stood up and said “this is what we are going to do. Now get on with it”

by Hywel on July 22, 2009 at 9:38 pm. Reply #

What is the QUANGOcracy? £125bn pa? That’s penty enough for all our programs, paying down a good chunk of debt and some tax cuts.

by Jock on July 23, 2009 at 1:03 am. Reply #

Jock

No substantive point, I was just speaking as an ex-academic exasperated by the commercialisation of the university sector – often at the hands of people with the slenderest academic credentials.

Your status as an unqualified non-teaching staff governor rather undermines my point. Though I have to say another thing that exasperates me these days is people’s refusal to admit they’ve made a mistake, no matter how glaring the error …

by Herbert Brown on July 23, 2009 at 10:16 am. Reply #

Hywel – some policies are all or nothing, others can be funded to varying levels or can be phased in over time.

It is quite reasonable, in the circumstances, for a party to say: “We support policy X but because we need to sort the economy out first we won’t be able to start bringing it in until the third year of the next Parliament.”

It would still be party policy and still in the manifesto.

by Liberal Neil on July 24, 2009 at 12:06 am. Reply #

Can’t believe how many people are going along with the need to cap expenditure/prioritise policies as if we have no choice but to reduce Gov. Spending because we have to reduce PSBR.

It took a lot longer than one year of the Big Deal to get America through the last similar Depression. Switching the tap off now would be a disaster.

Better to campaign hard for a continuing policy of economic expansion and against Conservative economic policy that would accelerate the rise in unemployment, postpone recovery and see massive cuts in welfare spending.

Britain needs to continue with expansionary monetary and fiscal policies.

Let’s work out what we think these should be in years 2010 to 2014. Work out Gov Expenditure levels to meet these expansions. Produce a programme of public works stretching into the future. Ensure these are targeted at investing in people’s health and skills, improving the quality of life and opportunities for those in most need, reducing pollution, production of greenhouse gases etc. Encourage and resource councils to build new homes. Return all funds from QUANGO control to elected local authorities or Parliaments.

Then, work out what that would mean for every community, hospital, school, university, local authority and major employer etc in as many constituencies as possible and campaign for that to happen among all those in our communities, who use and depend on those facilities or work or would like to work in those concerns.

Break free – we have nothing to lose but our mental chains.

by Bill le Breton on July 25, 2009 at 10:29 am. Reply #

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