Nick Clegg dismisses u-turn on tax as “mere details”

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Thanks to Linda Jack for pointing me in the direction of Nick Clegg’s interview on the Westminster Hour on Sunday evening.

In a fairly bad tempered interview given the easy ride that Caroline Quinn gives him (just imagine what a Paxo or Humphries would have made of this), he goes back to the formulation which most of the party is pretty comfortable with, namely that if we can meet all our spending priorities and “have money to spare” we should provide further tax cuts to people on “low and middle incomes.” This is a complete and utter u-turn in comparison with his Telegraph interview in which he says that the “vast bulk” of the party’s planned £20bn savings will be ploughed into tax cuts for “people on middle incomes.” In one particularly dismissive phrase, Clegg goes onto suggest that this wobble is all due to bloggers (in particular “Clegg’s Candid Friend”) getting “carried away” with “mere details”. I think I would put in another way:

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I have to admit to getting heartily sick of this shit. Whether it is about God, how many lovers he’s had, the Lisbon Treaty and now tax, Clegg is incapable of getting it right first time whenever he talks to a journalist. His interview in the Telegraph marked a significant shift in policy. If we hadn’t got obsessed with “mere details” (what’s a few tens of billions of pounds between friends?), the confusion would have continued.

Clegg’s problem when talking to the media was identified during the leadership election. He’s had the best part of a year to sort this out, yet every couple of months he goes off on one playing silly buggers like this. It simply isn’t good enough.

When I wrote on Comment is Free last month that the party has a major communications problem which lies at Clegg’s door, I got a lot of stick for making a problem out of nothing. I can only hope that a few more people now realise this is actually quite a huge issue which needs to be resolved urgently.

14 thoughts on “Nick Clegg dismisses u-turn on tax as “mere details”

  1. Seems clear enough to me. There are two policies:

    a) the 4p cut in income tax, paid for by green taxes and closing loopholes
    b) £20bn in savings to go into spending commitments, then tax cuts.

    Now even if the majority of b) goes into spending, there is still a tax cut for low and middle income earners overall, worth the greater part of £20bn because of the tax cut part of a).

    We all know that the idea that government revenue is divided into pots, so that policy a) operates through one pot and b) through another, is a fiction. What you call insanity and U turn seems just to be a different perspective on the same policy package.

    Now maybe it is a mistake ever to offer a different perspective on your policies, but if this is what you are getting at, the message is a little lost in the trash talk.

  2. Yes, I think Clegg has a habit of confusing journalists by raising ‘ideological debates’ rather than formulating an effective slogan which articulates his position.

    Communication is about condensing ideas and values into something which you don’t choke on and can be digested at leisure.

    I’ll admit it causes me anxiety when I read the way sub-editors interpret his statements and I can understand why others will wobble over giving him fuller backing but his instincts are still in the right place. He clearly isn’t a natural performer but it’s early days in his tenure and he’s leaving himself plenty of space for improvement (deliberately?).

    I wouldn’t say any of this counts as a mistake, we just need to share the burden more evenly among our front-bench team to be able to show our best features in a better light.

  3. “a) the 4p cut in income tax, paid for by green taxes and closing loopholes
    b) £20bn in savings to go into spending commitments, then tax cuts.”

    Not a lot of (b) left for tax cuts if you look at the pledges we’ve made
    i) More police paid for from ID cards
    ii) Apollo project for renewables (paid for from savings from the new nukes program?)
    iii) £2.5bn for pupil premium (Cleggs figure)
    iv) New high speed rail network (estimates for one London-Scotland link are around £12-19bn – some of this would be met from new taxes admitedly)
    v) Our cut-price trident replacement
    vi) Delivering better pensions and ending the inequality between men and women
    vi) The other numerous spending pledges people make – more school playing fields, free tennis lessons for under 16s, increased financial education.

  4. Hywel, a high speed rail network wouldn’t have to be paid for in one year, and I’m assuming the £20bn is an annual figure. Cut-price trident is a saving compared to full-price trident.

    Better pensions, frankly, demand an increase in the retirement age. I don’t expect, when I am 120, my pension, and that of my children of 95 and their children of 70 will all be paid for by my great grandchildren of 45, who are also supporting their children of 20 through university.

    Free tennis lessons? Good grief. Can we just quit it with all these middle class rip offs please. Free football lessons, that might be something.

    Whether the £20bn recycling is supposed to include “already announced” items like ID cards and nuclear, I don’t know. Perhaps I should call the leader insane until I find out.

  5. I see Joe – so it is our responsibility to ask Clegg what he means, not his responsibility to explain himself.

    Maybe we should put that on all our literature from now until polling day. I’m sure that will work really well. We could have a picture of Clegg on them looking fierce saying “DON’T MOCK WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!”

    Genius. Presentation is for losers.

  6. Hywel’s ref to ending inequality is to pensions – i.e. to create a citizen’s pension based on residency not years worked. If you’re saying we are abandoning that policy after a year since we (specifically Danny Alexander) reaffirmed it, it’s news to me.

  7. “Better pensions, frankly, demand an increase in the retirement age.”

    I agree – but that isn’t what we’re advocating

    The free tennis lessons is a reference to an interview Nick did on R5 just after Make it Happen was launched and during Wimbledon. The issue of the cost of playing tennis on public courts came up and Nick suggested that making it free for at least under 16s might be a good idea to encourage more kids to play.

    I don’t mention it as a serious policy commitment (it’s a local authority matter in any case) but as an illustration that we seem to want to be the party advocating large tax cuts but are still keen on making spending commitments. Lower tax means less spending and that is not something I’m convinced the party is facing up to.

  8. Free use of public courts would be a lot cheaper than free lessons. Still it is a fair point that we’re not used to talking about spending cuts, and we would probably all feel more comfortable (or less comfortable) if we knew specifically what these cuts are. Unfortunately if we say what they are today, the Tories will nick them tomorrow. Labour probably won’t – for them the acid test of spending seems to be how well-intentioned it is.

  9. Maybe I’m not reading the details enough, but we need to be able to say what our policy is in simple language – and it needs to be tied to basic principles. I’ve been a member of the party for almost 36 years and unfortunately we don’t seem to know where we’re going

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