Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday on June 30, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Clegg's pledge to borrow to invest moves the Lib Dems closer to Labour

The Deputy PM's rejection of "austerity forever" is an important point of difference with the Tories. 

Nick Clegg's first speech since the Lib Dems' disastrous election results is an attempt to respond to criticism from both the left and the right that voters no longer know what his party stands for. In the address at Bloomberg's London HQ today, he will say that the Lib Dems have a "unique mission" to advance "liberal values" and that he is "not interested in coalition at any cost". This is a qualification of the stance previously outlined by Danny Alexander, who earlier this year ruled out Lib Dems support for a minority government, a position which some in the party feared would make it harder to achieve its negotiation priorities (since there is no threat of a veto). 

As part of his attempt to provide the Lib Dems with greater definition, Clegg will announce the rules that will govern his approach to tax and spending in the next parliament. Most significantly, he will say that while committed to reducing the national debt as a share of GDP (the "debt rule") and to eliminating the current deficit (the "balanced budget rule"), he supports borrowing for capital projects that enhance growth or financial stability.

It is a move that aligns the Lib Dems more closely with Labour than the Tories. Unlike George Osborne, who has pledged to achieve an absolute budget surplus by the end of the next parliament, Clegg has recognised the case for borrowing to invest in infrastructure programmes (such as housing, transport and communications) that benefit the economy. This puts him on the same page as Ed Balls, who has pledged to eliminate the current deficit and to reduce debt as a share of GDP by the end of the next parliament, but has left room to borrow for capital spending. Clegg's refusal to clear the remainder of the deficit through spending cuts alone, as the Tories propose, and to raise taxes on the rich, through measures such as a mansion tax, is another important point of agreement with Labour. 

There are some differences that remain. Labour has pledged to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament (2020), while Clegg wants it gone by 2017-18, and Clegg's stance precludes borrowing to invest in schools and hospitals, which Labour's may not. As he will say: "Gordon Brown used to slap the words 'capital spending' on anything and everything just so he could get away with borrowing to pay for it. That can never be allowed to happen again. Sound investment yes, reckless borrowing, no."

But it is the contrast with the Tories that is most notable. As he will say of Osborne's position: "We are not the Tories. We don’t believe in an ever-shrinking state. We are not so ideological about making cuts that we’ll deny people the things they need.

"We’re not so dogmatic about borrowing that we’ll jeopardise Britain’s economic health. Responsibility – yes; austerity forever - no."

We can now add borrowing for investment to the striking number of shared Labour and Lib Dem policy positions. As I've previously noted in the NS and the Times, both favour a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2m, EU reform without a guaranteed referendum, a voting age of 16, an end to the use of unqualified teachers in state schools, radical devolution to city regions and local authorities, a mass housebuilding programme, greater oversight of the intelligence services, a 2030 decarbonisation target, scrapping winter fuel payments for wealthy pensioners, reform of party funding and the maintenance of the Human Rights Act.

While the personal animosity between Clegg and some Labour figures, and the enduring tribalism of many in Miliband's party, means a coalition would not be smooth to assemble, it is far easier to see what a Labour-Lib Dem government would do than what another Tory-Lib Dem administration would. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred