Who passes the Clegg test?

How many of Nick Clegg's four demands do Labour and Tories meet?

So Vince Cable won't be the next chancellor after all. Today's Guardian reports that the Liberal Democrats are planning to rule out forming a coalition government with either the Conservatives or Labour in the event of a hung parliament. But they will be prepared to offer parliamentary support to any party that accepts their "shopping list" of four demands.

So who, as things stand, would pass the Clegg test?

1. "Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for disadvantaged children."

Conservatives: The Tories have already promised to introduce a pupil premium, with extra funding for schools that take children from the poorest homes. But the party has yet to say anything about how much it would spend, or where the money would come from.

The Lib Dems have said that the policy would cost £2.5bn a year, with the average school receiving roughly £2,500 extra for every disadvantaged child on its roll.

Labour: Ed Balls opposes a pupil premium, arguing that it would not guarantee that pupils with disadvantages or extra needs actually get the support that they need.

Verdict: A point to the Tories. None for Labour.

2. "Tax reform, taking four million out of tax and raising taxes on the rich by requiring capital gains and income to be taxed at the same rate."

Conservatives: A number of Tories are impressed by Nick Clegg's plan to raise the income-tax threshold to £10,000, but David Cameron has yet to poach the idea. Instead, he plans to focus on cutting inheritance tax and recognising marriage in the tax system. In addition, George Osborne has pledged to reduce corporation tax from 30 per cent to 27 per cent. The Tories have no plans to raise capital gains tax (CGT).

Labour: No plans to cut income tax, but Alistair Darling is said to be looking at raising CGT in the Budget to stop the wealthy exploiting a tax loophole by declaring income as capital gains. This would please the Lib Dems, who could claim to have led the agenda.

Verdict: In anticipation of a rise in capital gains tax, Labour wins half a point.

3. "Rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on centralised banking and more on a new, greener economy."

Conservatives: Osborne is sympathetic to calls to split investment and retail banking but has stopped short of calling for a complete separation. Cameron has promised a "localist green revolution" with companies such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer helping to make homes more energy-efficient. But will his backbenchers stand in the way? A ConservativeHome/ConservativeIntelligence survey revealed that reducing Britain's carbon footprint was the lowest priority for Tory candidates.

Labour: The government has so far refused to separate retail from investment banking and is unlikely to change its position. On the "green economy", Labour has promised to create a more than a million new green jobs and to cut UK greenhouse-gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2020.

Verdict: Half a point to the Tories on banking and half a point to Labour on the green economy.

4. "Political reforms, including changes to the voting system and a democratically elected Lords, that go further than proposed by Labour."

Conservatives: The Tories are opposed to any electoral reform and support the current first-past-the-post system. Cameron opposes proportional representation on the grounds that it hands power to the "political elites".

The Tory leader has said he supports a largely elected second chamber but is reluctant to challenge his own peers on the issue, as they are opposed to reform. In private, Cameron has described Lords reform as a "third-term issue".

Labour: Supports the replacement of first-past-the-post with the Alternative Vote and has passed legislation to ensure a referendum will be held. The Lib Dems support the move as a "step in the right direction", but are disappointed that Labour did not opt for a proportional system.

The government continues to favour a predominantly elected Lords. However, Jack Straw has warned campaigners that they will have to wait more than decade before this is achieved.

Verdict: Half a point to Labour.

Final score: Conservatives: 1½ out of 4

Labour: 1½ out of 4

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.