Tag Archives: manifesto

4th February 2011: The day of Nick Clegg’s quiet rebirth


http://www.nickclegg.com/nccom_news_details.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg%3a_Building_a_New_Economy&pPK=54d272f1-39c9-4d00-8a27-5666c0d029c9

Whatever happened to “I agree with Nick”?

What happened to the t-shirts churned out with that slogan and what happened to the most popular politician since Winston Chuchill?

David Cameron, the Conservatives, the Coalition and the cuts happened. And Nick Clegg’s identity as not only a politically savvy leader, likeable for remembering the names of questioners in the audience, but an ideologically well meaning man, was lost under all the public outcry. As the distinctive voice of his party became ever diluted by its partnership with the Conservatives, so did Clegg’s own progressive world view.

I’ve long championed Clegg on this blog. Frankly it’s been tempting to turn on Britain’s most hated man at times. But it would have been weak and naive to dismiss Clegg for compromising in government. He was absolutely right to enter into coalition. His choice of partner was unavoidable and fair. It was constitutionally correct and right for the British people. Not all of the policies of the Coalition necessarily are though. In fact some, many even, are damn right damaging.

More importantly from a Lib Dem point of view it’s been impossible to reconcile drastic deficit reduction with most of the progressive policies requiring investment in their manifesto. Finally though, today in Rotherham, Clegg delivered a speech daubed with innumerable fingerprints from that manifesto. And it’s the most convincing argument in favour of the government’s economic strategy so far.

Last year when David Cameron embarked on a foreign policy tour, I called on him to use sustainability and green growth as a unifying message to take around the world from Britain. Since then, and his failure to do anything of the sort despite promises of a “jobs mission”, President Obama has announced a focus on clean energy in his State of the Union address. And now Nick Clegg has made the ideological link between environmental and economic sustainability.

Nick Clegg’s speech has the potential to seriously worry Labour. It returns to the more inspirational language he used in the election. It makes a rational argument for a brand new economic model. Nowhere does Clegg make the mistake of saying it will end boom and bust, as Gordon Brown did, but that’s clearly the intention by creating a sustainable foundation for growth and diversifying Britain’s output. He makes it clear the government will plan for growth and eliminating the deficit is merely the means to an end of prolonged growth. The Conservatives, even Chancellor George Osborne, have made such a fetish of cutting that it seemed to be all this government stood for. Clegg reminds people of the future, of an optimistic vision. As with Climate Change, most have neglected to point out the opportunities created by the solution to a serious problem.

The speech will also reassure Lib Dems. To an extent, it reassures me. Clegg’s four pillars of growth are all sensible and recognisably linked to the key points on the front of his election manifesto. Investment over debt, regional balance, hard infrastructure (high speed rail, energy) and soft infrastructure (education and skills). For me the undertone of the speech was that were it not for the deficit and some conflicting priorities with Conservative colleagues, Clegg would be implementing an investment led, green economy alongside new measures for fairness. Fairer tax and better education. Green jobs and better transport.

Clegg ended his speech at the Carbon Capture plant speaking about Carbon Capture and Storage. The government appears to be committing to CCS. And about time to. For a long time the potential for exporting CCS technology, to emerging, gargantuan economies like China already packed with coal power stations, has been enormous. Britain could not only minimise upheaval and expenditure in converting her own energy supplies but make huge profits and create jobs by genuinely affecting the world’s carbon output through pioneering and exporting the technology. Clegg makes the economic case for CCS, but ties it to Climate Change for progressives. This is the way forward: realistic ways of getting emissions down.

However despite shifting the debate wisely to sustainability and articulating the reasons for government economic policy better than anyone so far, Clegg will remain under pressure from Labour. Firstly this speech shall probably wrongly achieve minimal publicity. Secondly, and more importantly, Clegg’s pillars of growth are undermined and contradicted by Coalition policy. They remain mostly on a wish list in the partly fulfilled Lib Dem manifesto. If there’s a commitment to education and “soft” infrastructure, despite the pupil premium it’s hard to justify cuts to universities. High Speed Rail makes slow progress, there’s no solid government money for green energy and jobs. The cuts hit traditionally poorer regions disproportionately hard. Labour should still be able to make the case that yes we want sustainable growth, but you needn’t cut as fast and deep, you needn’t delay all attempts to spark growth, despite a reasoned argument from Clegg about properly targeting spending. And you need growth in order to cut the deficit, sooner not later.

There are loads of good things in this speech I’ve wanted to see for a while. But the bottom line is they don’t go far enough and they’re outweighed by cuts, cultural devastation and unemployment. However if the Coalition pick up Clegg’s argument and Osborne’s Budget contains growth policies in keeping with a futuristic vision, Labour will find it harder to land blows on a plan of long term optimism. And whatever happens, Clegg’s proved his political credentials once more.

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Ed must not falter as Cameron eyes comfy legacy


I have just finished watching Ed Miliband’s first speech as the new leader of the Labour party. It began with a volley of jokes, of human humour, that must have had many Labour supporters sighing with relief that they at least now had a leader who could smile and appear accessible to the public, following the stoic, grim Scott that preceded him. Indeed the strongest feature of the speech was a man with beliefs and ordinary concerns defining himself, announcing himself to the people of Britain. Here was a reasonable, genuine man the public could relate to but did he have the stature of a leader?

Yesterday elder brother David delivered a rallying cry to his party that had the media scrambling to suggest Labour had picked the wrong Miliband and that David Cameron had been right to fear the Shadow Foreign Secretary the most. Losing by the narrowest of margins, the bouncy figure once derided as Mr Bean and Banana Man looked like a leader, like a man who could be Prime Minister. In contrast Ed can sometimes look like a rabbit caught in the headlights, particularly in the acceptance speech immediately following his victory and again at times today. He can also look a soft geeky presence rather than a strong inspiring one, ready for the challenge of leadership and Opposition.

But David lost for a reason. The elder Miliband was content to ride a wave of guaranteed support to the leadership, with minimal effort. He may have honed his demeanour and conducted himself like a leader, but he did not reach out enough in the necessary ways. He was essentially lazy. He had incredibly strong support and need only had made some minor concessions to the trade unions and supporters of his brother to secure victory. He lost because he refused to break with the past of New Labour in the way that many grass roots voters wanted. He was admirably defiant about New Labour’s positive legacy but made few moves to indicate where the project went wrong and more importantly in which direction he would take it. David did not grab and harness the mood of change.

Ed, like David Cameron and Barack Obama and even Tony Blair, who emerged from almost nowhere to lead their country, did recognise the value of a clean slate, of a breath of fresh air. He recognised that the party knew it had stagnated and the electorate were no longer interested unless it refreshed its ideas, reconnected with its ideals in a new optimistic way. Ed ended his speech by declaring his Labour to be the party of optimism in contrast to Cameron’s cuts. He began his speech talking about a new generation. During his speech we learnt little more about Ed’s policy vision for the party, as he perhaps wisely kept most hands close to his chest, vague and adaptable to the demands of Opposition. However during his campaign Ed’s denouncement of Iraq, and his support for a living wage, AV and a graduate tax, were all bigger indicators of Ed’s Labour party than David was willing to offer. His brother simply didn’t offer the progressive policies that even many in the Labour old guard wanted to see championed now by a new wave of youthful renewal, equal to the challenge of Clegg and Cameron’s Con-Dem coalition.

Following Ed’s triumph though the media have blasted him and he has been labelled a puppet of the unions, “Red Ed”, out of touch with the core middle England vote. He moved quickly to counter these claims with interviews in the Sunday Telegraph and on the Andrew Marr show, saying he would fight for Britain’s “squeezed middle”. Reading the coverage of his victory I noticed that David Cameron had called Ed to congratulate him from Chequers, and warned him that his job would be a tough one. I can’t help but think Cameron would not have been so eager to call, or so superior and wise in his manner, had the more experienced and in his view more threatening elder brother won the contest. Cameron no doubt sees Ed as an easy target and may already be eyeing a second term, free of Lib Dem constraint. “Red ED” will be inexperienced and easy to sideline as an illegitimate Union toy, keen on tax rises and simply not credible on the economy. He also authored Labour’s last, losing election manifesto, and is not as new and fresh as he would make out. Cameron should easily get the better of him at PMQs for a while and any Labour poll leads will prove superficial when 2015 comes around and the coalition has secured economic recovery.

Ed must obviously be cautious that he is not unfairly painted by the Tories and that his policies do not alienate the very voters Labour must win back in the south, the voters who chose Blair in 1997. This accounts for his soothing rhetoric with regards to the middle classes. But Ed must hold his nerve and be bold too and learn the lessons of his leadership victory. He won because he presented a more dynamic vision on policy than his brother. He won with a clear progressive message. He also won because although he may not look like a leader at times he does look genuine, not a fake performer but an actual idealist, committed to what he says, reasonable and pragmatic in his approach and willing to talk about love and compassion in ways other politicians of different generations cannot. He must not tarnish the positive, honest image he is building for himself with the British people by muddling his message. He must not take fright at the newspaper headlines and give out mixed views but continue to pursue the radical, progressive and optimistic agenda that carried him through his campaign. He should not be afraid to take a distinctive stance on the deficit with a different emphasis on tax and other kinds of cuts than those proposed by the coalition, as long as it is credible. He should prove he is a man of his word and not simply a career politician by putting a green economy, green taxes and carbon emissions reductions at the heart of his party’s policy, following his role as Climate Change Secretary. He has the potential to both inspire a new youthful generation on issues of the day such as new politics and global warming and reconnect with the values of older generations on issues like family, Afghanistan and tax. The formation of his Shadow Cabinet in the coming weeks will be the first true test of Ed’s leadership qualities and also be crucial to defining his vision for the party. Whatever his brother decides to do Ed must remain proactive in challenging the establishment as he said in his speech and not budge on his message of a progressive alternative for Britain, regardless of media pressure. Voters will repay passionate consistent calls for change in the long run.

Need for Lib Dem Realism


The Shadow Chancellor, writing in The Times today, insists that the Tories represent real change and are not simply “chasing the polls”. Such a claim seems unwise, given that the article announces a change in the direction of the Opposition’s strategy made as a result of recent Labour gains. The Conservatives, Osborne says, will no longer shirk from attacking Gordon Brown’s record in favour of announcing policy as they have done so far this year. In the same breath he insists this election is not about doing away with a tired government but “real change”. This “real change” will focus on six main areas; cutting the deficit, the NHS, family, school reform, cleaning up Westminster and boosting enterprise.

These are the battle grounds the Tories have chosen to fight the election on. In my opinion, despite the non-stop policy announcements, David Cameron and his team have not got across to voters exactly how they will bring change in these areas. In particular the Tories talked tough on the deficit, announced some initial policies and then backtracked when the polls twitched, mimicking Labour rhetoric about protecting the recovery and avoiding “swingeing cuts”. Today an Emergency Budget was promised, but the real plan for slicing Britain’s debt is unlikely to emerge until after the election, if indeed there is one. More worrying however is that if these are a Conservative government’s priorities then what place do issues like Afghanistan, energy security and climate change have on the agenda? There is also a definite lack of excitement, radicalism or idealism about such targets. David Cameron has previously talked passionately on changing government to empower people and cutting back the state but there is no great focus on this in Tory campaigning. To use a sporting analogy, the Conservatives are sitting back and playing it safe, hoping to make it to full time still in the lead.

Such a cautious approach gives other parties hope. Labour are fighting back and the election looks set to be closer than it might’ve been. However the Shadow Chancellor is right about one thing in his article today and that is that voters are fed up with Gordon Brown. Realistically it is straight choice from the dire Scot dirtied by power and the fresh Etonian. The Liberal Democrats refuse to take sides between the two big boys and Nick Clegg has ruled out participating in a coalition should there be a hung parliament. This is a mistake. The leader of Britain’s third party should not dismiss such an immense opportunity to break the political status quo and implement changes that couldn’t be considered under normal circumstances. In other words the Lib Dems should not rule themselves out of a position in which they could pick and choose the policy priorities of government and introduce fairer representation that might seal the party’s return to the mainstream.

TV debates loom for party leaders for the first time in a British General Election campaign. Nick Clegg should feel blessed to have a podium at these events. I believe it is right that he does, but unless he has a message worthy of the opportunity including the Lib Dems will simply be a token gesture. He has to strive to strike a balance between idealism and realism. He should acknowledge his party’s place rather than pretending to be something he isn’t, but recognise the opportunities afforded him by such an underdog status. It allows him to be franker with the public about policy, something the Lib Dems do quite well via Vince Cable. However it also allows his party’s vision to be more ambitious and less diluted by the demands placed upon the parties who have something to lose.

This election is the first for a while in which doom and gloom reign over optimism. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour feel able to promise it and both have awkwardly tried to find a balance, resulting in a message that is neither uplifting or honest. The Lib Dems can be the party who present the current crises as opportunities for rebuilding Britain on stronger foundations. They already have radical tax policies that would really do something about fairness but they need to go further. To do this they must recognise the splits in their own party, caused by two types of Liberal; the state interventionist who resembles old Labour and the hands off, small state intellectual closer to the Tories. Rather than a weakness a fusion of policies that appeal to both types of Liberal would be an enormous strength, providing appeal across the electorate and in areas neglected by the main parties. To an extent this might mean controversial compromise, for example on energy policy. Currently the Lib Dems wish to avoid the “rush” to nuclear to tackle climate change. However a stable supply is needed alongside renewables and for the party to recognise this would be a massive signal to the nation that the Liberals intend to achieve their idealistic goals.

If Nick Clegg wants to be he can be the first Liberal leader in a long time to exercise genuine power. He is foolish to rule out a coalition. In the past the country has had a coalition at times of financial hardship, war and political scandal. Today all these things are challenges as well as climate change, an issue that needs unprecedented action to bypass a population that will never be unanimous. Even William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said on the Andrew Marr show recently that climate change should be acted upon if there is even the slightest chance the evidence is correct. This is the correct approach but sadly a Conservative government, or a Labour one, would not feel able to take the radical steps necessary to make a significant reduction in emissions. A coalition however would be able to introduce policies for the long term good of the country. The Lib Dems can unleash a political shockwave over the next few months that will decide the election and the nation’s future. If they do not play their hand the game will continue to be played without them.