Clegg and Cable at odds over welfare cuts

Clegg would trade welfare cuts for a wealth tax, but Cable won't accept a "penny more" off spending.

A senior Lib Dem adviser told me last week that internal polling indicates very clearly that the electorate attributes the cut in the top rate of tax to the Tories and the rise in the income tax threshold to the Lib Dems. Thus this year's conference slogan - "Fairer tax in tough times" - was born. And you can see this differentiation strategy in action now, everywhere you look. For example, when Nick says - "I will not accept a new wave of fiscal retrenchment, of belt tightening, without asking people at the top to make an additional contribution"- there’s a very clear indication that George Osborne will only get his welfare cuts – his Tory welfare cuts – if there’s a suitable quid pro quo.

This is all well and good, so long as the message is a consistent one. You can have your evil nasty policy, but only if give me something exceptionally nice in return. However, I detect that certain parts of the party have moved on already. Vince, for example. "We’ve used the phrase not a penny more, not a penny less," he says. "I’m implementing spending cuts and it’s very tough. We are not agreeing anything over and above the cuts that have already been agreed in the spending review."

Not a huge amount of wriggle room there. Not much of a quid pro quo on the horizon. One wonders what, if anything, Vince will say in his speech. Has he had the messaging strategy "clarified"?

For someone like me, who’s spent two years telling party folk that the electorate are quite capable of differentiating between a Lib Dem policy and a Tory one, and that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy was disastrous, this is all good news. And indeed, suddenly, everywhere you look, differentiation is writ large. But are we doing deals with the Tories – or just saying no? I can feel a row brewing.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Vince Cable has said he won't accept "anything over and above the cuts" that have already been agreed.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.