Clegg deserves the chance to finish what he's started

Despite what some on the left of the Lib Dems claim, we’re living out our principles in government.

Mathew Hulbert's piece calling for Nick Clegg to stand down is as wrong as I've ever seen any Lib Dem be. Mathew has badly interpreted the party and shown ignorance about its history and politics.

He states that that he is "in mourning" for a party that "believes in very little that it once held dear" but his examples aren’t just weak, they’re plain wrong. He mourns that the party did not vote for the 50p tax rate at conference, which present as totemic of our history. But while Mathew is technically correct that we have never believed in a 45p rate, the 50p rate hasn’t been in a manifesto for nearly 10 years. Our policy has traditionally been maintaining a 40p top rate, whilst shifting taxes to wealth. He also rails against the party for supporting a replacement for Trident. Except Lib Dem policy in 2010 was to find a smaller, cheaper Trident – we've never been anti-nuclear weapons.

Next, Hulbert argues that Nick Clegg wants to turn us into a British version of the German FDP, who he describes as a "parasitical attachment" to Merkel's CDU. He goes on to say that this must not be the aim of the Lib Dems. But this is a straw man; I don’t know a single Lib Dem who’d agree with him. Yes, we’re pitching for another term in government but we’ve said we’ll talk to whoever the public wants us to. If we aren’t aiming for government, there’s even less point to our existence than many of the commentators on the piece will claim.

Finally, Hulbert cites Clegg’s answer to Linda Jack during his Q&A at conference. Jack is one of the awkward squad, a lady for whom I have much respect, but we agree on little. Her group, Liberal Left, of which Mathew is a member, seeks permanent realignment of the Lib Dems with the left. Put simply, they want to be a "parasitical attachment" to Labour.

Every day we’re living out our principles in government. We’ve curtailed the worst of Tory excesses whilst lowering tax on the poor, introducing the pupil premium, attempting to reform our broken political system and so much more. We haven’t got everything, but that’s because we only have 57 MPs. We’ve accepted some bitter pills, but then so have the Conservatives.

What stands as a testament to Clegg’s character is his continuing leadership. He has lead us into government for the first time in decades and withstood the barrage of hatred directed at him from both left and right. His value is again growing with many recognising the strength he has shown throughout his leadership.

We have achieved so much so far, whether it's the fantastic free school meals policy, or raising the tax threshold for the poorest workers in society. There’s so much more still to push for. 

Clegg has some of the sharpest liberal instincts in politics, there’s no one ready to replace him yet and to do so would be foolhardy. He deserves the chance to finish what he’s started.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

Nick Clegg delivers his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.