At elections, there is no better guide to a party’s future intent than their recent actions. Since 2010, Labour has campaigned for the repeal of damaging health reforms which have put profit before patient care, argued against the unfairness of cutting taxes for those at the top while hardworking people pay more and pledged to reverse the bedroom tax. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems – by contrast – have voted through each of these policies, repeatedly backing David Cameron all the way.
The spectacle of Nick Clegg attacking Tory spending plans that take public spending to levels not seen since the 1930s, after having signed them off, is lamentable, laughable and shows a shocking lack of awareness. The Lib Dem strategy to date has been complicity with the Tories and is now duplicity with the public.
Their election campaign is predicated on running against their own record. As so many young people have asked, how can you trust a word they say about the future when even they are ashamed of their past?
It’s worth revisiting some of the Lib Dems’ 2010 manifesto pledges. They promised “fair taxes”, but but millionaires and hedge funds have been given a tax cut while working people have seen wages fall £1,600 a year since 2010. They promised a “fair chance”, but broke a central election promise to not raise tuition fees and trebled them as soon as they were in power. They promised a “fair future”, but despite pledging to do otherwise, backed cuts which mean there are 628 fewer Sure Start across the country. They promised a “fair deal”, but the only deal made was a cosy one with the Tories.
Young people have learned the hard way that the Lib Dems can’t be trusted. Because of Clegg’s broken promise on tuition fees, graduates will now leave university with more than £44,000 debt on average – an increase of £20,000 on the previous system. Under the pre-2012 system, half of all graduates would have repaid their debt in full by the age of 40. Now, 73 per cent of all graduates will still be repaying into their 50s, putting the dream of a home, a family, a career and a decent retirement even further out of reach.
But this isn’t all. Nick Clegg backed changes to the electoral registration process which has seen almost one million people drop off the register. It is a scandal that rushed implementation of individual registration – after scrapping Labour’s safeguards – means that so many people, hundreds of thousands of them young people, will be disenfranchised come May.
Many will be students. Those cities with the largest student numbers have seen some of the largest falls in registered electors. In Liverpool there are over 20,000 fewer people on the electoral roll. In Nottingham, 13,000 fewer people are registered. In Manchester and Brighton it’s over 12,000 fewer people. In Leeds the figure is over 3,000 and in Sheffield almost 5,000 people fewer people will be registered to vote. In dozens of towns and cities across the country – including in Nick Clegg’s backyard – students are denied the chance to hold this government to account at the ballot box.
Many other young people are affected. But the huge effect on students might suit Nick Clegg, who has little to gain from courting the student vote. After raising election spending limits, we know the Tories want to rig the rules of the game in their favour but it is scandalous that, ahead of the most important general election for a generation, a million people are going to be denied a voice. The government must take action now to ensure people sign up by 20 April in time to vote in May – and if they won’t, Labour will.
Over the coming months, as Nick Clegg tries to differentiate himself from David Cameron, I’ll be thinking about this country’s young people – the million lost voters, the record one in four young people living at home with their parents into their thirties, one million 16-24-year-olds without employment, education or training. But it’s not just enough to encourage each and every one of them to register and make clear what they think of this coalition government.
Despite his recent reincarnation, Nick Clegg has been a leading member of this damaging, discredited government since May 2010. He has voted with the Tories on a staggering 259 occasions, there have been 37 Lib Dem ministers, with access to 200,000 civil servants and a total pay bill of £10.5m. They are as responsible for the crisis in A&E, the increase in VAT, the failure to meet economic targets and the fall in living standards as the Tories. Put simply, the Conservatives couldn’t have done it without them. By trying to airbrush their record, they are treating the country’s young voters, yet again, with contempt. In a few months’ time, let’s make sure young people get the chance to return the favour.
Lisa Nandy is shadow Cabinet Office minister and Labour MP for Wigan