Monday, January 11, 2010

Nick Clegg's Four Steps to a Fairer Britain - real change on the cheap

Today, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg outlined the values and commitments that will be at the heart of the manifesto the party puts to the country in the General Election. In contrast to Labour and the Tories, who, he said had produced "a greatest hits compilation of almost everything that has turned people off politics", he argued that the ideas he would put to the country would build us a fairer and more sustainable future.

Typically, the media has chosen to focus on what's not in there, so let's do a bit of rebalancing.

Nick spoke about how we need to treat the electorate as grown ups. They know perfectly well, some learning particularly harshly as they've lost their jobs or homes during the economic crisis, that the country is in a financial mess. To present a list of high spending commitments would have no credibility.

There are lots of things we would love to do, but we simply don't have the money for. Everybody can relate to not being able to afford something they really want to do, but have to put on hold for a while. Everybody knows that we need the mother of all economy drives for a little while at least.

Liberal Democrats are nothing if not experts at making a little money go a long way, though. On a campaigning level, we've run effective election campaigns spending a tenth of the amount Labour and the Tories shell out so it's hardly surprising that we've worked out a way to bring about some seriously radical changes to taxes, children and politics when things are tight. Look what we have worked out we can do when the cupboard is bare:

Take everyone earning less than £10,000 a year out of tax, saving the poorest £700 every year - a couple of months' rent, or several months' council tax, half an annual rail season ticket. Enough to make a real difference to struggling households.

Putting an extra £2.5 billion into schools, targeted at the children who need help most.

In England, following Scotland's lead and phasing out tuition fees

Changing the electoral system to abolish safe seats, making MPs properly accountable to their electorate.

Reducing the number of MPs by 150.

Cleaning up politics and political donations, restoring the public's faith in politics.

Meaningful regulation of the banks.

Building an economy based on environmentally sustainable technology and renewable energy.

That's not bad for starters.

However, I'm hoping that today's launch was only the start. What Nick did this morning was to cover the key spending pledges and showing how they are based on fairness, but there's much more to lib demmery than that. I hope we'll see him speaking up more about the freedom and liberty we know he passionately believes in. Right back when he was elected leader, he said that if he was required by law to have an ID card he would refuse on principle. He led the party to vote against the Government's unnecessary and draconian 42 days' detention. He's spoken out against intrusive surveillance and innocent people's DNA being kept on record. That commitment to civil liberties, that presumption that people are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves how to live their lives, are at the heart of what we are about.

I'm sure that's all to come, though. Today was a good start.

I shall give the last word to Mr Clegg:

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