I have had emails from several readers asking me for my views on Nick Clegg’s speech on growth. It was 2,460 words long and free of content. All in the week when my friend Polly Toynbee in her Guardian column yesterday called David Cameron “the great charlatan”. I guess that makes Clegg “charlatan minor”.
The speech followed what is becoming a common theme in declarations about the economy from Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.
First, blame Labour for the mess. “They left us well and truly in the red.” And then emphasise how large interest payments are and give examples of what alternatives the money could have been spent on. “We could buy a new Chinook helicopter every day,” he said — although why we would want to do that, he didn’t make clear. He probably wants one to fly around the country in so he can avoid talking to people who want to question him on his various U-turns.
Second, claim that this is creating a crisis for our children and that morality is on their side. And ludicrously claim that what is going on is “theft”, by emphasising only the liabilities side of the balance sheet while ignoring the asset side. From Clegg’s speech:
There is a moral dimension to this question too. I have never understood those who say it’s more “progressive” to delay tackling the deficit, so that we shuffle off responsibility for our debts to the next generation to deal with. This strikes me as little short of intergenerational theft. It is the equivalent of loading up our credit card with debt and then expecting our kids to pay it off.
Yet he fails to mention that our kids also have to suffer from an intergenerational transfer of assets including roads, hospitals, airports, schools, public health and our entire infrastructure.
Third, say there is no alternative to the the government’s fiscal plans and repeat several times how sincere and determined the government is to see this thing through to the end. For example: “The coalition government is determined to eliminate the deficit,” and, “We are determined on our course of action to tackle the deficit,” plus “As a government, we are determined to get this right”. Really?
Fourth, trot out as many mindless platitudes as possible that sound good but don’t actually mean anything. Waffle is the watchword.
“We seek nothing less than a new model of sustainable growth.”
“We are in government to lay the foundations for a better, stronger economy. People want their politicians to be leaders, not accountants.”
“A sound economy is built on diverse, strong regions and diverse, strong sectors”.
“We need, in short, a grown-up approach to growth, based on hard-headed analysis — in place of the “pick-and-mix” approach that has characterised too much recent government activity, grabbing at instant initiatives rather than taking the big decisions that really count.”
I have no clue what that means.
Finally, talk in broad terms only and provide no concrete proposals. Clegg even went as far as to say: “I do not think we should apologise for treating this issue with the utmost seriousness.” We would prefer you to have a plan — any plan — than this empty-headed nonsense.
“We need to be clear about the fundamental factors that drive economy growth; clear about the areas in which government can effectively play a role; and clear about the interventions than make the most difference.”
Never fear, by Budget time at the end of March they will have worked all that out! Believe that and you will believe anything.
Clegg claimed there are “four important steps needed to take to build a new economy”:
* Weaning ourselves off debt-financed growth, and onto investment-led prosperity;
* Investing in the ‘hard’ infrastructure that underpins growth, such as transport;
* Cultivating the ‘soft’ infrastructure made up of knowledge, skills and education that businesses need;
* Balancing regions and sectors, instead of putting all our economic eggs in one basket.
OK, so we need to invest in the infrastructure and people and move to a new model of growth which doesn’t exist currently, plus do some stuff for the regions and manufacturing and help chicken farmers. And don’t borrow but invest a lot.
And all of this by next Thursday. You must be joking.