When do you want the debate about what cherished political promises will have to be cut: before or after the election?  Philip Stephens pointed out post the ‘lolcat coup’ that we may get the wrong answer:

“as the campaign unfolds it is hard to escape the feeling that the most interesting political choices are likely to come after rather than before the election. The tensions within the two main parties are as compelling as anything seen so far in the contest between them.”

Vince  has struck the only consistently bold attitude so far, but even his efforts cover just a fraction of the deficit – and the controversy around Nick warning of ‘savage cuts’ last Autumn suggests there are divisions there as well.

As Liam Halligan has also noted, the failed Coup enabled Darling to assert his (and King’s) views more strongly – a favourable development, bringing more of the debate pre election.  But the two biggest parties are still clearly confused about whether to protect their promises on things like marriage tax breaks.  And now, according to the FT, the Tories are confused about whether they would reverse the NI increase. I am still waiting for Brown to talk cuts.  It is almost worth putting them all in a room with Liam Halligan and getting him to shout ‘£200bn deficit!”. Almost.

This is why Nick Clegg’s widely publicised speech about abandoning parts of the shopping list makes such good political and economic sense*.  Tim Montgomerie acknowledges a good day for Clegg. Even the TPA call it “New Year’s Honesty”.  Liberal Vision call it “upping the ante”, and say

if his plan was to highlight David Cameron’s deception in NOT telling us where the axe will fall under the Tories – then he has probably achieved that.

Exactly.   What is the greatest risk: going into election day being outflanked on the soft, cuddly, nothing-has-to-change-if-we-scrap-Trident side, or on the tough side?  Which attack is more virulent: “Lib Dems are vicious cutters” or “Lib Dems can’t get fiscal reality”?  In a world where people regularly suggest that a hung parliament is the most scary outcome for the bond market, this clear demonstration from Nick that his parliamentary party will be willing to sign off tough fiscal bills is a huge step forward.

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*This does not mean repudiating the very idea of debt or calling it ‘immoral’ – see the argument on the IEA blog.  Our children have to repay our debts: they also inherit our assets and tend to be wealthier and healthier.  Alex Smith (see comments on previous post) believes that fairness to our kids means education must never be cut.  I agree that it deserves a higher priority than Health, but I am not sure that educating our kids better is fulfilling an obligation to them as much as us: in 40 years time’ we will be relying on their productive capacity to pay for what is left of our pensions.  It is in all our interests to improve education.

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6 thoughts on “The only not-confused leader right now is Clegg

  1. ” What is the greatest risk: going into election day being outflanked on the soft, cuddly, nothing-has-to-change-if-we-scrap-Trident side, or on the tough side? Which attack is more virulent: “Lib Dems are vicious cutters” or “Lib Dems can’t get fiscal reality”? ”

    Politically, this is easy. There is a much greater political risk in supporting specific vicious cuts than of being accused of making unfunded spending pledges. Any Lib Dem who has been involved in electoral politics would be able to tell you this.

    Of course, Clegg hasn’t yet set out any vicious cuts, any more than Cameron has. But only someone who wishes harm on the Lib Dems would urge them to spell out before an election how they would cut spending by £60bn/year.

    1. Perhaps the distinction I should have highlighted is instead “Lib Dems can’t give you the goodies they’d dreamed up in 2004” rather than “vicious cutters”. In fact “we won’t be irresponsible and introduce new items on the fiscal bill that might put at risk core funding of essential things like education” is a better description of what Nick has done, I think.

      And I suspect that the political risk you are thinking about was more devastating in 2001-5 (remember the Letwin hunt) than now. I reckon the public understand better – but I am a novice campaigner. Also, the flank the LD’s need to cover is the Tory one, IMHO.

  2. “Alex Smith (see comments on previous post) believes that fairness to our kids means education must never be cut”

    I assume you mean this comment:

    http://freethinkingeconomist.com/2010/01/11/biggest-understatement-of-the-day-so-far/#comment-1112

    If so, that was me, but I am not Alex Smith.

    Anyway, assuming it was that comment you were referring to:

    I’m not saying that education should NEVER be cut. Only that after exiting this particular recession it shouldn’t. Maybe one year the government over spends on education and so it is cut to make it more efficient. Or hell, maybe one time there’s a bubble in “education coupons” or whatever (crazier things have happened)!

    “It is in all our interests to improve education.”

    Agreed. And that is why I gave two reasons to protect (or at the very least cut the least, if there must be compromises in politics) education – a moral reason (the crisis wasn’t their fault) and an economic reason.

    Just to repeat: this is all assuming that you were referring to me. If not I apologize.

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