LibLink … Nick Clegg: The Liberal Democrats are not for sale

by Stephen Tall on January 4, 2010

Over at The Times, Nick Clegg has penned an article setting out, perhaps in the clearest detail yet, exactly how the Lib Dems will respond in the event of a ‘hung Parliament’. He begins by noting the heat-without-light debate that the new year has brought:

Much of what we have heard so far is unsurprising: absurd pledges on spending, vitriolic attacks on cuts. But one development is new: both the old parties now claim to be almost identical to the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron and Gordon Brown are ostentatiously flirting with Liberal Democrat voters, clumsily trying to woo them — and by implication me and my fellow Liberal Democrat MPs.

And then it’s onto the ‘hung Parliament’ question:

This year’s general election is likely to be the most open and unpredictable in a generation. So you have a right to know where we stand. I can promise voters wondering whether to put an “X” against the Liberal Democrats that there are no backroom deals or under-the-counter “understandings” with either of the other two parties.

As Nick notes, the last 50 years have seen a transformation in British politics – from the 1950s, when Labour and the Tories hoovered up 98% of the votes cast, to the 2009 local elections, when other parties, including the Lib Dems, scored 40%. The reason, at least in part, is simple:

On so many issues in recent years, Liberal Democrat instincts have been in tune with the British public: on Iraq, civil liberties, political reform, the environment, fair taxes, the excesses of the City of London, the rights of Gurkha veterans.

Which brings us to Nick’s ringing declaration:

We are, and have shown ourselves to be, very different from the other two parties. My message to Mr Brown and Mr Cameron is simple: the Liberal Democrats are up for real change. We are not up for sale.

So, how would Nick respond in the event of a ‘hung Parliament’? Well, there are two governing principles:

One, we will respect the will of the public. The voters are in charge and the decision is theirs. If voters decide that no party deserves an overall majority, then self-evidently the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or, if it chooses, to seek alliances with other parties.

Two, regardless of the post-election arithmetic or whatever power we are granted, there are four objectives that we will unwaveringly pursue.

And Nick maps out those four objectives:

First: fair taxes. Our plan would mean that the first £10,000 you earn would be free of income tax. This would be paid for by taxing income and capital at the same rate, phasing out special pension subsidies for highest-rate earners, switching tax from income to pollution and introducing a mansion tax on the value of homes above £2 million.

Second: a fair start for all our children.
We will cut class sizes and provide more one-to-one tuition to children by introducing a new “pupil premium” in our schools.

Third: a fair and sustainable economy that creates jobs. We will use the money from one year’s cuts in current spending to create tens of thousands of new jobs in public transport, a national programme of home insulation and new social housing. We will be honest about where savings must be made to balance the books and we will break up the banking system.

And finally, fair, clean and local politics. We will introduce a fair voting system, ensure that MPs can be sacked by their constituents if they break the rules, return powers to local communities and stop tax avoiders from standing for Parliament, sitting in the House of Lords or donating to political parties.

Seems like a good list to me … sound economic management, tax cuts for the poorest, climate change, fair votes and decentralisation, pupil premium: pretty much all the touchstone liberal issues.

What do LDV’s readers think of what Nick has to say? Has he done enough to put to bed the interminably tedious ‘who would the Lib Dems back’ question beloved of worn-out political hacks? Or has he opened up a can of worms unnecessarily?