Nick Clegg's change of strategy on infrastructure spending had already been announced

It was in the Coalition's mid-term review.

As the IMF calls for  Plan B, everyone has got very excited that Nick Clegg has come out and said he thinks cutting spending on infrastructure went too fast at the start – and maybe needs addressing. "It’s another coalition split" goes up the cry…

But it’s not you know. The change in strategy had already been announced. It’s just everyone missed it.

As I said a few weeks ago, the mid-term review marked a shift in the coalition’s priorities. A seismic shift.

The original coalition agreement made one thing very clear. Every pledge, every promise, every plan promised in the manifestos and the agreement itself, would be secondary to one basic principle – that being that

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the measures in this agreement”

and I suspect most commentators think that is still the stated priority of the government. Quite a lot of Members of Parliament probably think that too

But it isn’t, you know.

It changed on 7 January. Now, the new coalition agreement or mid-term review says…

“Dealing with the deficit may have been our first task, but our most important task is to build a stronger, more balanced economy”

Which is quite a different thing.

It sounds like the goal now is investment. It’s growth. It’s a boost to the supply side of the economy.

Nick was just re-stating what’s already been announced.

Plan B.

Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images

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

What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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.