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.

Tracey Thorn. CRedit: Getty
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“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

For women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

I am sure you all saw the Twitter challenge that took off the other day – a request to women to “describe yourself like a male author would”, started by the writer Whitney Reynolds. There were thousands of hilarious replies, with women imagining how a bad male author would describe them. I thought about posting an example, but then realised, I didn’t have to imagine this. I’ve been being described by male journalists for more than 35 years.

Katy Waldman in the New Yorker wrote about the challenge, and how it highlighted clichés in men’s writing: “…prose that takes conspicuous notice of a female character’s physical imperfections. This is done with an aura of self-satisfaction, as if the protagonist deserves credit simply for bestowing his descriptive prowess upon a person of less than conventional loveliness.”

And oh boy, that hit home. Yes, I thought, that is precisely how I’ve been described, too many times to recall, so many times that I’ve actually sort of stopped noticing. The following aren’t direct quotes, but near enough.

“Not conventionally pretty, Thorn nevertheless somehow manages to be curiously attractive.” “Her face may not be technically beautiful but she has an engaging laugh.” “Her intelligence shines through the quirky features.” Often what’s irritating isn’t the hint of an insult, but just being wide of the mark. “She isn’t wearing any make-up” (oh my god, of course she is). “She’s wearing some kind of shapeless shift” (it’s Comme des Garçons FFS).

I’m not trying to arouse sympathy. I’m much thicker-skinned than you may imagine, hence surviving in this business for so long. But the point is, for women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Brussels and Paris doing interviews, I was taken aback all over again by the absence of female journalists interviewing me about my album – an album that is being described everywhere as “nine feminist bangers”. As the 14th man walked through the door, my heart slightly sank. I feel like a bore banging on about this sometimes, but it astonishes me that certain aspects of this business remain so male-dominated.

Even the journalists sometimes have the good grace to notice the anomaly. One youngish man, (though not that young) told me I was only the third woman he had ever interviewed, which took my breath away. I look at my playlists of favourite tracks over the last year or so, and they are utterly dominated by SZA, Angel Olsen, Lorde, St Vincent, Mabel, Shura, Warpaint, Savages, Solange, Kate Tempest, Tove Lo, Susanne Sundfør, Janelle Monáe, Jessie Ware and Haim, so there certainly isn’t any shortage of great women. I’ve been asked to speak at a music event, and when I was sent the possible line-up I couldn’t help noticing that over three days there were 56 men and seven women speaking. The final bill might be an improvement on that, but still. Any number of music festivals still operate with this kind of mad imbalance.

Is it down to the organisers not asking? Or, in the case of this kind of discussion event, women often feeling they don’t “know” enough? It’s a vicious circle, the way that men and their music can be so intimidating. The more you’re always in the minority, the more you feel like you don’t belong. Record shops seemed that way to me when I was a teen, places where guys hung out and looked at you like you didn’t know your Pink Floyd from your Pink Flag.

I also have to watch songs of mine being described by male writers, and sometimes misinterpreted. I’ve got one called “Guitar” on my new record. There’s a boy in the lyrics, but he’s incidental – it’s a love song to my first Les Paul copy. That fact has sailed over the heads of a couple of male reviewers who’ve seen it as a song all about a boy.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness, or when you take for granted that you’re at the centre of every story, every lyric. I bet you think this piece is about you. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge