‘Manifesto promises are not written on tablets of stone’ says Nick Clegg
THE Liberal Democrats will go into the next general election making clear that some manifesto pledges are “dependent on circumstances”, Nick Clegg signalled last night.
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The Deputy Prime Minister said the increasing likelihood of coalition government meant parties could no longer guarantee implementing their manifesto in full.
The comments, in interviews at the Lib Dem conference in Brighton, came after the Lib Dem leader apologised last week for breaking his promise to
oppose hikes in tuition fees.
Asked whether there was now a fundamental problem with politicians making iron-clad commitments, Mr Clegg said he thought there would have to be different levels of pledge in future.
He said: “If we are moving, as I believe we are, into a much more fluid political environment where the kind of old pendulum swing from the red team to the blue team is going to be much more difficult to predict … I think all parties will need to be more upfront with the British people on what is kind of ‘tablet of stone’ stuff, and the others that will depend on circumstances.”
Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems had been “ahead of the game” because they put the four policies they would “die in a ditch” for on the front page – the pupil premium, £10,000 tax-free
allowance, banking reform and political reform.
“We said that is the stuff we really, really care about – the other stuff is dependent on circumstances,” he added.
Mr Clegg also fuelled confusion over whether he wanted to introduce means testing on some universal benefits, such as winter fuel payments, in 2015-16 – potentially a breach of the coalition agreement.
He began by insisting there was “no question” of such cuts during this parliament, because it would be against the “holy text” agreed with the Tories.
However, Mr Clegg went on: “My own view is that all parties will need to confront the simple irony, which is that we are giving free bus passes and TV licences and winter fuel payments to [entrepreneurs] Alan Sugar and Peter Stringfellow, while limiting housing benefit to families on much lower incomes.
“I do not think that is sustainable in the long term.”
Pressed on whether curbs on universal benefits could form part of the coalition’s last spending review – which comes into force a month before the 2015 general election – Mr Clegg replied: “As I say, 2015-16 is something we will need to decide upon during this parliament.
“I will advocate things, not only like that . . . I think one way or another we are going to have to bite the bullet.”
The party’s position was further confused when Cabinet Office minister David Laws, one of Mr Clegg’s closest allies, said he was “sceptical” about cutting universal benefits for pensioners. He said the policy would not raise much money because there were so few rich retired people.
“We are not going to touch the universal benefits for pensioners in this parliament. We have a coalition agreement that remains,” Mr Laws said.
“Although many people will think it is slightly odd that people who are incredibly rich are receiving things like the winter heating allowance, the truth is the overwhelming majority of pensioners are on middle or low incomes. There are very few millionaire pensioners.
“Indeed, the small number of very high-income pensioners also receive things like the basic state pension and nobody has ever suggested that should be taken away from people.
“I don’t think anyone is suggesting we should be sending out leaflets to pensioners asking them to declare their jewellery or their property . . . we have no intention whatsoever of doing anything like that.
“To be honest, I’m sceptical of this personally because the amount of money you would
actually save by taking away some of these benefits from very rich pensioners is not huge, because there are not many very, very, very rich pensioners.”
In a speech that drew few laughs and limited applause yesterday, the biggest cheer came when Mr Clegg announced that former Lib Dem lead Lord Paddy Ashdown will chair the 2015 election team. He urged his party to start thinking of itself as a party of government and take pride it what it has achieved in the coalition. And he warned that they needed to accept the austerity measures not only to save the economy but to protect British values of freedom and democracy.
He said: “The potential consequences of this shift in power, should we in the West fail to respond, cannot be overstated.
“Our influence in the world, our standard of living, our ability to fund our public services and maintain our culture of openness and tolerance – all are in the balance. For power would move not only away from the liberal and democratic world, but within it too; from moderates to hardliners, from internationalists to isolationists, from those committed to the politics of co-operation to those hell-bent on confrontation.”
He added: “If history has taught us anything, it is that extremists thrive in tough times.”
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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