After lying low for much of the referendum campaign, Nick Clegg emerged today to make the case for AV with an op-ed piece in the Daily Telegraph and a speech at the IPPR.
But the latter was marred by an inappropriate and highly partisan attack on Labour’s economic policy. Clegg insisted that the coalition’s work would continue “regardless of the result of the referendum” and repeated one of George Osborne’s favourite attack lines: that Labour would have cut spending by just £2bn less than the coalition in 2011/2012.
In Labour’s case they are going round the country pretending they wouldn’t make these decisions when their own plan, the Alistair Darling plan, was to cut £14bn this year compared to the £16bn we are cutting. For every £8 we are cutting, they would cut £7. To deny that reality is to treat the British people like fools.
This claim, of course, ignores the changes that Ed Miliband has made to the Darling plan. Labour would still halve the structural deficit over four years but it would do so through a 60:40 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises, rather than the original 70:30 split. As a result, the difference between Labour’s cuts and the coalition’s would be greater than £2bn this year. The switch to a 60:40 ratio means that total departmental cuts have fallen from £44bn to £34bn, compared to the coalition’s cuts of £61bn.
Even if we accept Clegg’s claim, the coalition’s decision to cut spending by £6.2bn in 2010/2011 (when Labour would have made no cuts), means that the true gap between the parties’ spending plans is £8.2bn, not £2bn.
But leaving that aside, Clegg’s attack was politically foolish because, as I pointed out yesterday, the Yes campaign needs to win over Labour voters if it’s to stand any chance of winning on 5 May. The latest YouGov poll shows that while Lib Dem voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (83 per cent to 17 per cent) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (84 per cent to 16 per cent), Labour voters are split exactly down the middle (50 per cent to 50 per cent). Clegg’s ill-tempered attack on Labour only reminds us why some in the party are so keen to give him a bloody nose.