Nick Clegg’s Blog

Nick Clegg: A Fresh Start for Britain
22 July, 2009, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Inside Westminster, News, Statements

Nick Clegg today launched a Fresh Start for Britain, outlining the principles on which the Liberal Democrats will build their General Election Manifesto. Speaking at the Party HQ in central London, Nick Clegg said:

Today we are launching A Fresh Start for Britain. Which sets out the principles on which our General Election manifesto will be built. And which will form the centrepiece of our discussions at Autumn Conference this year.

These are dramatically different times. So we’re putting together our manifesto in a different way from before. The economic crisis has put huge strain on public finances. And the country’s fiscal position is extremely uncertain.

Based on the government’s own figures we will borrow £175bn this year alone – that is £5,550 every second. The OECD believes national debt will hit £1260bn next year – 90% of national income. This year’s deficit is likely to be one of the highest in Europe, at about 12%, and the outlook is so unsure that economists vary wildly in their estimates of how much of that deficit is structural.

So it is impossible to be sure what the next government will and will not be able to afford. At a time like this, when the only thing that’s certain is that money is tight…

Political parties have to make many more difficult choices – where to cut, where to spend what little money there is. So it’s even more important than ever that parties are straight about the values and principles that will guide them through those choices.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives are being straight. Labour refuses to admit that cuts are necessary… While the Conservatives want to cut immediately, right in the teeth of a recession, pretending that cuts won’t hurt. Both are wrong.

Discipline is going to be vital for the next government. Public spending will need to be very tightly constrained for the next decade at least. But – as the debate about the need for equipment in Afghanistan demonstrated – there are always going to be new calls on public spending. So we are adopting two new rules that will govern our approach to tax and spend in our General Election manifesto, and in government.

First: our tax rule.
We are determined to offer substantial income tax cuts to people on low and middle incomes – but to ensure those are affordable we will make up for every penny of tax cuts by making taxes fairer and greener, making sure polluters and the very well off pay their fair share.

Second: our spending rule.
Any new spending will be paid for by a specific cut made elsewhere, to ensure it is deliverable even in these tough economic times.

I want to be completely straight with you about the consequences of those two disciplines: There are policies the Liberal Democrats have talked about before… That we remain committed to in the longer term…

That may not be affordable at all in the next Parliament.

We have come to the end of an era of plenty in the public finances.
So the Liberal Democrats must come to the end of an era of “shopping list” manifestos, too. They were right for a time when the coffers were full…

But no longer.

Our next manifesto will demonstrate we are a grown-up party, fit for government, disciplined and honest about what we can and will deliver. Many of the changes we want to make to the way the country is run do not cost money – they’re about doing things differently.

From devolving power in public services to put people in charge of schools and hospitals…To transforming the criminal justice system to cut crime.

But those changes we want that do cost money…Will only be introduced as and when resources can be identified by cutting public spending elsewhere. Our manifesto will be a fully costed programme for government…So any policy for which resources cannot be identified will be excluded.

And let’s be clear about the long term, too. Britain has an enormous structural deficit that it will take years to eradicate. So our spending rule – only spend what you can cut elsewhere – is going to have to be enforced for a very long time.

That’s why we have placed such a high premium on identifying big, long-term savings that can be made across government. This document – A Fresh Start for Britain indicates some of the principal areas we will be looking at. Big areas of public spending where substantial long-term savings can be made in order to maintain spending on the things that really matter and cut the deficit:

We can save money by reducing the centralised state – the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised command-and-control state, databases and agencies. We can save money on defence procurement – no like-for-like replacement of Trident nuclear missiles.

Let’s look again at the arbitrary and unaffordable target of sending 50% of young people to university. And let’s look again at public sector pensions – not breaking commitments already made, but looking for ways to keep the cost of future obligations, particularly to the higher paid, under much tighter control.

These are the sort of big, tough decisions that governments are going to need to take. Yes, these decisions are difficult. But if we are brave enough to take them… We can find the money needed to build a different better future.

Liberal Democrats are different from the Conservatives, who only want to reduce spending, both now when the economy is fragile and over the long term. We, by contrast, want to maintain spending during the recession…And over the longer term – reinvest some of the money we save by cutting wasteful and ineffective programmes.

Our approach is not just about balancing the books, as if government were some sort of accountancy exam. Our approach is about discipline for a purpose: to find the money to invest in our future…

Yes – reducing the deficit.

But also building a fair society, and a green economy, with opportunities for all our children, especially those from deprived backgrounds.

This document sets out those priorities. They are the building blocks for our General Election manifesto. Building a fair society. Building a new, stable, green economy. And a fresh start for politics, free of corruption, shifting power to the people.

Let me deal with them in reverse order.

No-one has faith in the political system any more. Labour and the Conservatives have betrayed them – offering warm rhetoric about political reform at the height of the expenses scandal, only to do nothing to change things.

It’s a blatant attempt to cover up the truth: that they will defend the corrupt status quo to the last breath. Only the Liberal Democrats will clean up Westminster, reform expenses, end big donations, elect the House of Lords, cut the power of Ministers…

And give local people the right to sack any MP who’s found guilty of serious wrongdoing. And we will secure, once and for all, fair votes for everyone… Making sure safe seats are a thing of the past and MPs are forced to listen to the people they represent not just look after themselves.

Next: the new economy.

Climate change threatens our very way of life – so we need a new model of economic growth, abandoning our old polluting ways. So we will put Britain back to work and fight climate change by investing in green economic growth… To create thousands of new jobs, renewable energy, affordable homes and green infrastructure.

We will find ways to shore up capital investment – especially in housing – in the next three years by diverting wasteful spending from elsewhere in government.

And our final priority: fairness for our children.

This is at the heart of everything I believe. I am like any parent in this country. I have three sons and I want them – and all our children – to have real hope for the future.

But if we don’t do things differently… If we don’t protect and invest in our children… They will be the victims of this generation’s mistakes.

Look at what’s happened. The banks behaved greedily… The government – Gordon Brown – was asleep at the wheel and let them get away with it…

But let’s face it: As a society we lived beyond our means and borrowed too much. We’ve all indulged in dirty energy, polluting the environment around us. We’ve all been living on borrowed money and borrowed time, and it’s got to stop.

We must put children first. I will not allow public spending cuts to harm the life chances of our children. And they will be our first priority for investment when resources can be found. Policies like cutting class sizes are right at the top of my list for our manifesto.

Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to support the NHS or provide dignity for people in their old age. But Britain’s future is our number one priority.

There is still hope for a different, better future – if we are brave enough to make a fresh start. The way things have always been done has got us into this mess, and it will never get us out.

If you want things to be different, choose a party that is different: the Liberal Democrats.

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