EXCLUSIVE – Nick Clegg on Tax: “er…”

Nick Clegg is going on the GMTV Sunday Programme this Sunday, following Chris Huhne’s appearance last weekend. I’ve been sent a transcript and, well… I kind of get what he’s doing but it’s just so woolly.

He’s very keen to push the Pupil Premiums idea, but worryingly he appears all over the place about how to pay for it:

Nick Clegg: £1.5 billion will come from taking above average families out of the tax credit system altogether. And we’ll take that £1.5 billion out of the tax credit system, or at least we’ll take families on above average income out of the tax credit system, use that money to give to the kids from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. That leaves a gap of a million… of a billion, sorry, and it would be one of the first things I would do as a leader to say to the party that we will have to find that extra billion, so that the total sum of £2.5 billion is a fixed pledge by the time we go to the country in the next general election.

Steve Richards: You’d accept that you’ve got a black hole there. You haven’t found where the money’s going to come from, the other billion.

Nick Clegg: Er, yes, but I mean there are other ideas. For instance there are other ideas, I mean for instance I’ve also this week been floating ideas for how I think we should introduce a 10% tax on the non-domestic earnings of so-called ‘non-doms’. In that particular case that raises about £1 billion. I would like that to go to alleviate the burden of Council Tax on those in Band A and band B properties, those on the lower rung of the property ladder, if you like. But it’s just an example of where we can be creative in trying to find that extra money in order to fulfil that pledge, and I’m absolutely confident that we will under my leadership make that fixed pledge by the next general election.

Steve Richards: By one way or another taxing the better off, presumably. Because it has to come from somewhere.

Nick Clegg: Yes, er well no, hang on, or, sorry…

Steve Richards: You said yes, so tax increase?

Nick Clegg: No, no, let me correct that. I think there is plenty of scope to cut back on some of the waste in government, some of the duplication in government. I think there is a strong case to look at how government expenditure’s been duplicated in many areas. Everybody is familiar with the general degree of waste in public expenditure in the last few years, so I have given you if you like a fluctuating answer precisely because I think that I’m not fixed in my own mind about where that money would come from, but absolutely confident that with political will that money will be found.

On the page it looks awful (much worse than using a word like “Gadarene”), although obviously it might not come across as quite so vacillating on screen. But surely Team Clegg should have got the answer to this basic softball question down pat by now? This is Clegg’s CENTRAL campaign policy. What have I been saying about clarity?

As Chris Huhne said in our bloggers’ interview on Tuesday, nice guys are all very well but if they don’t look like credible potential Prime Ministers, they’re ultimately a waste of time. A potential Prime Minister needs to look credible on economic matters. Clegg doesn’t here.

And while I’ve said nice things about his position on the environment in the past, I’m beginning to wonder if it is beginning to ring hollow:

Steve Richards: … Chris Huhne when he was here last week – you’re in a contest, and maybe in that context it’s understandable – but he was, how can I put it, critical of you for criticising him. In particular, well he was quite specific, he said that you had claimed that the party had not done enough on the environment, and he actually came up with endless statistics to show how much he had personally done on the environment. Was he right to pick up the fact that you were criticising him on this or wrong?

Nick Clegg: My feeling is that many party members in the Liberal Democrats are anxious about why it is that our leadership on policy, on setting out detailed policies about how we protect the environment, how we move to a zero carbon economy, doesn’t seem to be translated into real political leadership on this. Why is it that David Cameron appears to have stolen such a march without any substantive proposals on the environment? Why is it that the green agenda has been hijacked by this very superficial appeal from Cameron? I think that is a very serious political question. It’s certainly not directed personally at Chris. It’s an issue for the party as a whole…

Steve Richards: But he is the environment spokesman for your party, so…

Nick Clegg: Well hang on a minute. It’s a question for the party as a whole. Environmentalism is something integral to my philosophy. It’s something I’ve worked on for years. I’ve written books in the past about how you, for instance, change the world trade system to make sure that it actually boosts environmental protection rather than undermining it, and I think it is quite right for me as a prospective leader to say hang on a minute, we’ve got to make sure that Cameron doesn’t get away with blue murder – or blue-green murder – by pretending that he’s an environmentalist when he isn’t, and I think that what we need to do is be very careful that we don’t berate and hector people on the environment, but inspire and motivate them to make changes and make sure that they know that we are also placing a real obligation on businesses and on government – local and national government – to meet their side of the bargain, so it isn’t just people struggling in their own homes to change their lightbulbs, save more electricity, use less water, that also that we will give them answers as to why it is at the moment they then come home every afternoon with ten tons of plastic from the supermarket, or why is it that the local authority or central government gets away with not meeting their own carbon emission targets. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about – a new language on the environment which motivates, doesn’t berate – I think that’s exactly what our party should do.

It’s true that Cameron has made the environment a big issue over recent months. It’s also true that he’s been made to look a plonker with the chauffeur incident and hugging huskies nonsense. In recent months he’s also made it clear that he is distancing himself from the more deep green policies of Zac Goldsmith.

The wheels have already come off the Green Tory Bandwagon. I have to ask therefore why Team Clegg are so busy helpfully putting them back on again. Chris Huhne has produced polling evidence that suggests Cameron is not doing that well on this issue; what is Clegg’s response to that? Why is he not attacking Cameron’s empty pledges on the environment rather than using him as a stick to beat his opponent with?

No doubt Lib Dem Voice and others will have more about this interview.

UPDATE: The Guardian have picked up on this.


  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the last part of your article James.

    One of the main arguments of Team Clegg, which Nick himself is propagating, is that he is the great communicator while Chirs is ‘a bit dull’.

    Yet the facts suggest that Chris has done a much better job of getting the party’s message across. Over the past year the party has gone UP 6% as the best party for the environment, and is well ahead of the Tories, while on crime we have gone DOWN 3%.

    Could it possibly be that developing bold and distinctive policies and then putting them across with conviction and credibility is more effective than, to quote some of Nick’s publicity material ‘having a cheery disposition’.?

  2. No, you didn’t read it right at all. I’m complaining about the fact that he is talking up Cameron (“stolen such a march”) and thus, by implication, downplaying Huhne’s achievements, precisely at the point at which it is becoming apparent that Cameron has abandoned this ground. Why pay him the compliment, however backhanded?

  3. Yowser. Nat gut. Maybe it does just look worse on the page.

    Agree entirely re the back-handed compliment to Cameron, but that apart, Nick does make one decent point on the environment here that Chris still isn’t making (somewhat to my dismay), and that’s the emphasis on motivating and inspiring people rather than hectoring them. There was an excellent fringe meeting back at conference about this. It rather fits in with your earlier comments on the environmental portion of Chris’ manifesto.

  4. “Nick does make one decent point on the environment here that Chris still isn’t making (somewhat to my dismay), and that’s the emphasis on motivating and inspiring people rather than hectoring them.”

    I agree and I’ve said so on numerous occasions (this comment possibly for the benefit of Joe Otten).

  5. James – you, I and other Lib Dems may have recognised that the ‘wheels have come off the Tory Green bandwagon’ but it is far from obvious that this is a view that has percolated through to the general public. Also like it or not the environment is a hot button politics issue because of what Cameron has done, not because of what Huhne has done. That Cameron is now back-tracking / looking like a plonker doesn’t change this.

    In contrast on say immigration – on the Newsnight debate last night a good chunk of the debate was spent discussing Nick’s earned route to citizenship for irregular migrants. He has taken a distinctive (if not necessarily electorally massively popular) position which has helped shape the debate.

    Do we want a leader he can help shape the debate on issues which are traditionally amongst our weakest – or one who loses the iniative in an area that was one of our strongest?

  6. Matthew – there is simply no evidence that Huhne has “lost the initiative” on the environment; indeed what evidence there is (which I pointed out myself was flawed) points the other way. By contrast, on Law and Order the polls show us slipping. But then you know this because I pointed it out above.

    You make a good point: the public doesn’t necessarily realise that Cameron has lost the environmental plot. So how is it a good idea to talk up his game in every single media interview?

  7. The problem is that when Cameron suddenly announced he is a Green, this was new(s).
    Lib Dems have been green for ages, and so this is not new.
    I think the general public lost interest in the Liberal Democrats when Ming became leader, and none of the Parliamentary party has made an impact since, despite being very talented.
    It is hard to fault Chris Huhne in putting forward the argument. What else was he supposed to do? And if anyone had any bright ideas, did they suggest it to him?

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