Nick Clegg’s Blog


The Liberal Democrats are not for sale
5 January, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: Inside Westminster, News

The Liberal Democrats are not for sale

5th January 2010

Nick Clegg, The Times

If there is a hung Parliament there will be no under-the-counter deals with either big party

Hostilities have started. The frenzied announcements and counter-announcements from the Conservative and Labour parties over the past few days point towards a long, grinding election campaign.

Much of what we have heard so far is unsurprising: absurd pledges on spending, vitriolic attacks on cuts.

But one development is new: both the old parties now claim to be almost identical to the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron and Gordon Brown are ostentatiously flirting with Liberal Democrat voters, clumsily trying to woo them — and by implication me and my fellow Liberal Democrat MPs.

This year’s general election is likely to be the most open and unpredictable in a generation. So you have a right to know where we stand. I can promise voters wondering whether to put an “X” against the Liberal Democrats that there are no backroom deals or under-the-counter “understandings” with either of the other two parties.

The stance the Liberal Democrats will take matters more than ever because the map of British politics is being dramatically redrawn. Slowly but surely three-party politics has asserted itself. Half a century ago only 2 per cent of voters chose a party other than Labour or the Conservatives. At last year’s local elections, that had shot up to 40 per cent. At the last general election, one in four people who voted supported the Liberal Democrats; six million voters, more than for any other Liberal party in Europe.

So no wonder that both Mr Brown and Mr Cameron are trying to appeal to the millions of people who have long tired of the pendulum politics of Westminster. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it’s a compliment of sorts that the core values of the Liberal Democrats — fairness in society, real change in politics — are now being mimicked by others. On so many issues in recent years, Liberal Democrat instincts have been in tune with the British public: on Iraq, civil liberties, political reform, the environment, fair taxes, the excesses of the City of London, the rights of Gurkha veterans.

We are, and have shown ourselves to be, very different from the other two parties. My message to Mr Brown and Mr Cameron is simple: the Liberal Democrats are up for real change. We are not up for sale.
Mr Brown and Mr Cameron utter fine words about reform and fairness, but their policies aren’t even close to what’s needed. They both say that tax should be fair, but Mr Brown has created a tax system where the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than the rich, while Mr Cameron’s top priority is tax cuts for millionaires.

But Britain faces economic, social, political and environmental crises on an extraordinary scale. So we need an extraordinary government, not more of the same, for these extraordinary times. In the event of a hung Parliament, the British people also deserve to know how the Liberal Democrats will respond. We have two basic principles that I will uphold.

One, we will respect the will of the public. The voters are in charge and the decision is theirs. If voters decide that no party deserves an overall majority, then self-evidently the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or, if it chooses, to seek alliances with other parties.

Two, regardless of the post-election arithmetic or whatever power we are granted, there are four objectives that we will unwaveringly pursue.

First: fair taxes. Our plan would mean that the first £10,000 you earn would be free of income tax. This would be paid for by taxing income and capital at the same rate, phasing out special pension subsidies for highest-rate earners, switching tax from income to pollution and introducing a mansion tax on the value of homes above £2 million.

Second: a fair start for all our children. We will cut class sizes and provide more one-to-one tuition to children by introducing a new “pupil premium” in our schools.

Third: a fair and sustainable economy that creates jobs. We will use the money from one year’s cuts in current spending to create tens of thousands of new jobs in public transport, a national programme of home insulation and new social housing. We will be honest about where savings must be made to balance the books and we will break up the banking system.

And finally, fair, clean and local politics. We will introduce a fair voting system, ensure that MPs can be sacked by their constituents if they break the rules, return powers to local communities and stop tax avoiders from standing for Parliament, sitting in the House of Lords or donating to political parties.

While the other parties set out increasingly implausible lists of promises, the Liberal Democrats will remain focused on this short list of big, structural changes that will make Britain fairer. Neither of the other parties seems willing or capable of delivering them. So the Liberal Democrat message to the voters is clear: if you like what we offer, vote for it. The decision is in your hands.

Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats

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