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.