Clegg calls for Coalition to “shift up a gear” on the economy

by Stephen Tall on May 25, 2012

Nick Clegg has said the Coalition Government’s economic policy needs to “shift up a gear”, following news yesterday that the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the first three months of the year, down on the initial estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing a contraction of 0.2%. Here’s Nick speaking on BBC2′s Newsnight last night:

It’s interesting to see Nick Clegg — rather than the Chancellor — taking such a prominent role in fronting the Coalition’s response to the UK’s current economic troubles. He was also quoted in the Financial Times on Wednesday signalling ‘a shift from lurid warnings by ministers about the debt crisis to a fresh emphasis on growth’.

His critics may say he’s simply acting as the lightning rod for the Tories, and that he’d be better to let George Osborne take the heat. But it’s clear that Nick believes the economic argument is one he should not shy away from, and that he is probably better placed than the Lib Dems’ coalition partners are to emphasise the need for more than just open-ended austerity as the remedy to the economy’s ills.

This new, and more subtle, note of Coalition differentiation was highlighted by Gavin Kelly in the New Statesman this week:

To date, the rules of exchange for the Coalition have been clear: the parties can differentiate on all manner of issues but when it comes to overall macroeconomic and fiscal policy they have to be seamless. It’s the glue that binds. True, Clegg emphasised that the new edict for the Treasury was agreed by Cameron, so it would be wrong to overstate this, but any perception of disagreement between the coalition parties on core economic strategy would be poison for them. … Politically, the coalition urgently needs to work out exactly how it wants to evolve its economic narrative in the light of shifting events and then stick firmly to this script. And it might be a good idea if the Chancellor led the way.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.