Clegg praises Thatcher, calls for more savage cuts

12:00 pm - March 11th 2010

by Sunder Katwala    

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Fraser Nelson previews The Spectator’s interview with Nick Clegg, in which the LibDem leader has “put his heart into showing his hidden Tory side” according to the Speccy editor, who awards him a blue rose in noting his bid for a heir to Thatcher accolade.

It sounds as though it could be a major talking point at the LibDem spring conference in Birmingham this weekend, where it may not meet with universal acclaim among party members.

The LibDem leader is back in “savage cuts” territory, by arguing that the deficit should be dealt with only by spending cuts and no tax rises, which outflanks Cameron and Osborne on the right. (Nelson contrasts that with a Tory approach of 80% cuts to 20% tax rises ratio, and Labour 66% to 33%).

Age, he claims, has taught him the point of Maggie Thatcher. And, apparently, he now seems to see her as something of an inspiration, praising her for her victory over the trade unions.

Clegg may well be decisively outflanking the voters on their right too. (Left Foot Forward had an interesting discussion of this question of the tax/spending balance last Autumn; and this month showed public fear of spending cuts may outweigh fears of the deficit).

The timing of the high-profile interview suggests that the LibDem leader tends to seek sharper public definition through the Blairesque tactic of aggravating many of his own own activists.

It would also seem to signal that Clegg has his sights rather more on anti-Tory defence in the south-east and south-west than in taking the urban fight to Labour.

Last Autumn, Clegg retreated on the “savage cuts” language which horrified shadow cabinet colleagues, while Steve Webb swiftly dismissed the leader’s desire to means test child benefit.

I wonder if the oppose all tax rises line will survive.

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments

I think we have our answer to the “Would Robin Cook have become a Liberal Democrat?” nonsense.

Is there any evidence that public spending was what caused the recession? If so, why are we cutting spending to get ourselves out of recession?

I somehow think Clegg won’t appreciate how the Spectator have portrayed his views. The Lib Dems won’t beat the Tories in their South-West marginals by being seen to be more right wing.

So he’s telling the Speccy what it wants to hear, in the hopes that he’ll persuade its readers that he’s less of a wet than Cameron.

Sounds like a sound plan as long as Vince Cable doesn’t turn up and stamp out his fire.

But who is it designed to appeal to? Tories won’t vote Lib Dem because of this, and Lib Dems wont be more inclined to vote Lib Dem because of this.

Given LibCon and other articles about police, Daily Fail and other media lies about Facebook etc this morning, you can’t help but ask why LibCon is so unquestioning about a Spectator blog’s pre-publication spin of an article only due to be published tomrrow:

Would I be right in thinking that Sunder Katwala has not seen tomorrow’s (real) Spectator article and therefore cannot judge whether Clegg really said any of the things reported in the blog or not?

Of course, he might have done. Who knows? It’s a bit odd though given that it’s contrary to what Clegg and Cable have been saying recently.

Oh yes – LibCon supports the Lairbor Party. Almost forgot that given all the recent sensible stuff about Vince Cable & economics.

Inconsistent standards, anyone? :<

Well, if he has praised Thatcher, and if the Lib Dems do promise no tax rises, that’ll at least put an end to the nonsense about the Lib Dems being supposedly more left-wing than Labour.

Gutted for John Kampfner, but big-up to my powers of prophecy:

That was only yesterday. Cleggy moves fast.

I think you – and Paul – slightly misrepresent what Clegg is saying. It is basically a pitch for his attack on banks:

‘I’m 43 now. I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant. I don’t want to be churlish: that was an immensely important visceral battle for how Britain is governed. And what has now happened to the British economy? It has gone belly-up because, once again, we have allowed a vested interest to run riot.’ He is talking, of course, about the banks. ‘They represent a vested interest. This is what I sometimes don’t understand about the Cameron-Osborne act. A real liberal believes in genuine competition, a genuine level playing field and he is unremittingly hostile to vested interests.’ As Thatcher was to Scargill, so Mr Clegg intends to be to the banks.’

I know many of your readers are romantic about the unions. But how many would repeal the legislation that Thatcher brought in, or operate on the principle that mines should be run, no matter how unproductive?


If it turns out that Nelson has misrepresented what Clegg says, and Clegg isnt pleased with the cover or the blue rose thing, then I imagine Clegg will be really pissed off right about now!


“how many would repeal the legislation that Thatcher brought in”

*raises hand*

“or operate on the principle that mines should be run, no matter how unproductive?”

I’d have been willing to run some even if unproductive for a short time while building up other industries in mining areas and retraining. Better than creating long-term unemployment in order to break the unions, surely?

12. Stuart White

This has to be put in the context of Clegg’s efforts in 2008 to reposition the Lib Dems as a party committed to reducing the overall ‘tax burden’ – indeed, as a party which is happy to talk about tax policy primarily in terms of a ‘tax burden’. Clegg’s instincts are those of a centre-right liberal, not those of a social democratic liberal.

Also, let’s remember that within this aggregate number there is a lot of rebalancing in Liberal Democrat plans. More green taxes, fewer exemptions for rich savers, and tax cuts for those earning the least.

let’s not repeat the Spectator’s propaganda. He talks about taking on the vested interests of the bankers, and they stick a blue rose in his mouth!

11 – Really? You’re in favour of the closed shop and opposed to the right of union members to a secret ballot on strike action?

“Oh yes – LibCon supports the Lairbor Party. Almost forgot that given all the recent sensible stuff about Vince Cable & economics.”

Oh, not this nonsense again.

In the past few days, we’ve carried stories about campaigning groups acting against Labour MPs, criticisms of Labour’s youth unemployment policies, criticisms of Labour’s policies on the NHS, news of strikes against Labour’s policies, and criticisms of the government’s digital economy bill. We’ve also run stories refuting the right-wing myth that a hung parliament will lead to economic collapse, a story about how the Lib Dems use online campaigning locally, a Lib Dem press release on reducing race inequality, a rebuttal of the criticism about how the Lib Dems select their candidates. And news of a poll about how Vince Cable is the most popular choice as chancellor.

Liberal Conspiracy didn’t force Nick Clegg to attempt to suck up to Fraser Nelson, to praise Thatcher or to call for more public spending cuts than the Tories, and it is not our fault that he did.

That said, if anyone wants to write about how Clegg has been misrepresented and what he is really on about, drop me a line.

15 – Iain Martin is rather sympathetic.

If I read Clegg correctly he’s drawing on the American progressive tradition, which at its height was hardly a left-wing proposition (in the sense a European would understand). The mainstream progressives attacked great monopolies not, for the most part, because they wanted them nationalized (although there was, of course, a classically left aspect to some of the movement which ended up getting precisely nowhere). No, they did it because they thought forcing some choice via trust-busting would be healthier than allowing too much power to remain in the hands of a few unchallenged individuals. Their legacy today is the body of anti-trust law.

Essentially, competition is the guarantor of consumer and citizen power. Sensibly policed free-markets, hence the level playing field bit from Clegg, compel companies and industries to serve their customers rather than it being the other way round. Forced to operate in a free market, their search for profit and survival forces them to try and offer customers what they want – otherwise they’ll go out of business. Relieved of this pressure – by being owned by the government or enjoying insufficient competition – they suck in power and influence to protect their position. This is corporatism. It is not in the interests of customers. It’s in the interests of a few companies.

Unless I’ve misunderstood him, Clegg is thus making a quite traditional liberal (not in the party sense) case for genuine free markets.

I think if he wants to talk about cutting taxes, he should say he is cutting them for the poor, only to raise them for the rich.

17 – and again, without wanting to sound all Lib-Demmy, that’s just what he’s doing. However shonky it might be in execution, the key Lib Dem tax policy is a raising of the tax-free allowance to £10,000, paid for by a ‘mansion tax’ of some variety or other.

Clegg’s clearly trying to revive his ‘progressive austerity’ oxymoron. Good luck with that; he’ll need it.

@17 – But they just arent getting that across are they? They’re not trying to look both ways, but that’s how they’re coming across.

Surely reducing the threshold for the 50% tax rate is the better way to pay for lifting the poor out of tax? I think it’s currently at £150,000 – shall we say lower it to £100,000, and we have a deal?


Closed shop – yes, I don’t see why some people should free-ride on the back of others’ union subs. But personally I would have a different variant of the closed shop where people had to be members of a union, but could choose which one, so the closed shop wasn’t an excuse for union complacency.

Secret ballot – it should be up to union members how they want to run their own union. If that includes a right to a secret ballot then of course they should have that, but it’s not up to the state to enshrine that right in law. In most cases people should be willing to articulate their arguments in the open anyhow.

Jesus. As soon as I think I’ve made my mind up about my vote something like this happens.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fraser Nelosn misrepresented what Nick Clegg said. We’ll soon find out. But if it’s true, exactly in the terms described by Fraser, then the LibDems can forget my vote.

That said. I have never trusted Clegg. He is slippery. And the LibDems haven’t been the same since Charles Kennedy went.That’s, needless to say, my modest crappy opinion.

@21 Some say that the secret ballot is a guard against intimidation, but at the same time the model of caucusing, as used in the Democratic presidential primary elections in some states, is in fact much more democratically engaging than a secret ballot vote.

@22 The problem is, does Nick Clegg control what influence the Lib Dems will have in the event of a hung parliament? Surely if he does try anything right-wing, his party’s democratic structures will stop him? I think you should vote for them if you feel the party’s core values are consistent with your own. A quick guide:

If your core values are social democracy, trade unionism, and social justice – vote Labour.

If your core values are social liberalism, fairness, and civil liberties – vote Lib Dem.

If your core values are environmentalism, socialism and feminism – vote Green.

Don’t ask me what happens when your values are all of these or a mix of them! I guess you have to prioritise your own values, and choose which party is closest to that. It’s much better than choosing the least worst party.


True. The key thing for me is that if the state intruded into private business to that extent, right-wingers would be shrieking about red tape, but in much more democratic organisations they’re willing to let the state tell them how they should run themselves.

(And before anyone accuses me of the same double-standards as right-wingers, because I want more regulation of business but less state interference in trade unions’ internal matters, I’ll say that at the point at which workers elect their own management in businesses and can make policy for their business, I’ll support much less regulation of them.)

26. Sunder Katwala

I am personally a fan of the Liberal Democrats in many respects, though I am a member of another political party. At the Fabians, we often involve LibDems in our own events, and there are constructive and challenge debates to be had across party boundaries on the centre-left. Eg, I think the LibDem challenge to Labour on civil liberties and constitutional reform is often valid while I think Labour usually stronger on development, employment rights, and overall on redistribution (so am criticial of LibDems in scrapping the child trust fund, though like their mansion tax). I was pleased to speak alongside Steve Webb at the LibDem fringe last Autumn, where we were very much coming from a very similar place on the case for universalism, as Michael White wrote:

“• The sea off Bournemouth was as calm as a fringe meeting on upland farm subsidies. But little media initiative was needed to spot a leadership storm on the conference fringe. At a pointy-headed session between the Fabian Society and the Lib Dems’ CentreForum, ex-professor of social policy turned lefty Lib Dem MP, Steve Webb, joined forces with the Fabs’ Sunder Katwala, to warn against spending cuts which end universal benefits. “I read (Nick Clegg’s interview) in the Guardian that we were going to look at middle class child benefit. I have looked at it – and I have rejected it,” he snapped. “Services for the poor will always be poor services,” explained Katwala. Are you listening, Nick?”

As Stuart says Clegg’s instincts and language may be somewhat centrist to centre-right on economics and public spending (though I would add somewhat more centre-left on social liberalism issues). There was a much earlier and very engaged thread on liberal, libertarian and egalitarian strands of thinking in Clegg’s politics led by Stuart

Clegg himself acknowledges that he is instinctively from the liberal rather than the social democratic tradition (Vince Cable rather more integrates the two). That is perfectly legitimate for a LibDem member or leader of course. But I do I think Clegg is fairly characterised as being at least a little to the right of the centre-of-gravity of his shadow cabinet and parliamentary party, and of the median LibDem party activist/member.

What is interesting is the “Blairesque” approach he takes to deliberately shaking up his own party – also something Ashdown felt was important.

A Kampfner event with a Guardian piece; a projected Indy interview this morning and a projected Speccy interview this weekend arise from a strategy to cover various audiences.

Clegg can’t control the Spectator’s coverage, but he is a party leader and professional politician and would have some clear sense of what he was doing with the interview: he has clearly given them something to animate. The format gives him a bit of plausible deniability – he can claim its been journalistically blown-up in terms of the cover picture, etc.

The Thatcher comments are mainly fluff and symbolic positioning, whether sensible or not.

But the key substantive policy point on which he goes to the right of the Tories is evidently there in direct quotation on “purely spending cuts” to close the deficit.

Mr Clegg thinks that, once the economy recovers, the gap will be ‘to the tune of £80 billion or so’. So how do you fill this gap? Labour would do so with one third tax rises and two thirds cuts. The Tories would have one fifth tax rises. But Mr Clegg says the Lib Dems are the most radical of the lot: they propose no tax rises at all.

‘We’re saying “purely spending cuts”, and for a number of reasons. If you want the economy to grow, you must stimulate demand. Any economist will tell you that the best way to do this is by giving tax breaks to the people who tend to spend more of their money they receive.

though I am a member of another political party

Quick query, not sniping but purely curious – why is it Labour members when speaking to others, will say “I am a member of a political party” or “of another political party” or “I worked for a political party before working for…” – why the reluctance to use the word Labour? It’s not like it is a secret in most cases, normally when someone says they are a member of a political party it’s obvious they are Labour.

Also, it’s not a secret the Fabian Society is affiliated to Labour. Perhaps if you were more open and straightforward about it, it might afford you more influence on the party? Just’ sayin’.

28. Sunder Katwala

27 – it was just an affection of a slightly silly and excessively formal way to say it, based on every one at LC knowing that. And I say Labour straight after

if the state intruded into private business to that extent, right-wingers would be shrieking about red tape, but in much more democratic organisations they’re willing to let the state tell them how they should run themselves

You’ve not read the Companies Act I take it?


Not cover to cover, but I think I got the gist of it.

It’s a pretty hefty intrusion of the state into how private companies are run – considerably more interventionist than the Trade Union legislation of the 1980s. It’s also the largest single piece of legislation ever passed in the UK.

I think every time someone talks about ‘unfettered free markets’ in the UK, they should be hit on the head with my Butterworths copy of it.

“I think every time someone talks about ‘unfettered free markets’ in the UK, they should be hit on the head with my Butterworths copy of it.”

You’ll be doing a fair bit of milage then.

32 – But worth it.


Like I said, the moment businesses are even as democratic as trade unions are, I’ll support less regulation of them.

Nick Clegg is the MP for Sheffield Hallam and although that particular constituency isn’t noted for being impoverished or having a population which traditionally supports trade unions (particularly the NUM), it’s only a gnat’s spit away from the powerhouse of the miner’s strike.
The LibDems are very unlikely to gain seats within the immediate vicinity of that, however, there are surrounding areas, who supported the miners. but were not totally full-on labour supporters.
If Clegg did, in fact,;praise Thatcher for her victory over the trade unions, it’s unlikely to attract support for the LibDems within those areas, either Sunder is mistaken or Clegg’s judgement is seriously flawed.

What is often ignored is that many Lib Dem voters are self employed /SMEs. They neither see the City as their fellows nor those enjoying index linked pensions and 37 hr working weeks while being employed by the state. Many LibDem voters send their children to the local comprehensive and often employ people from them. Consequently they have a reasonable experience of the quality of their local comprehensive. As many Lib Dem voters have to deal with government both at the local and national level ( HMRC , environmental health, planning , HSE, EA, The Police( crime is a problem for many small businesses ) they have an opinion as to whether they receive value for money from the tax they pay. What Clegg and many LIbDems are asking “Does the Government deliver value for money with the tax money, we the British pay?”

Dan, when the full interview is published, I’ve asked some other LD bloggers to write up some responses which I’ll edit into a piece here, I’m pretty sure Sunder’s misrepresenting him from what’s been said alone, and the Speccie definitely is.

Sunder, FWIW, in the interview I did with him ages back for this site that I never finished writing up, I asked him directly if he agreed with me that the tax policy, as presented, was a strongly left wing shift for the party, and he did. The media misrepresent it, but it’s a very strong series of taxes on the wealthiest, and the headline policy is only part one, the tax commission that he and Vince are planning to implement has a long term plan for a radical redo of the taxation system (and said commission was launched by Campbell, Clegg only passed it into policy).

Blanco @20, Vince has done the numbers, alongside a bunch of very hefty economists, and raising the higher rate of tax, or changing the threshold, raises bugger all money. Party policy is to completely redo Capital Gains tax, to bring it back up to the levels it was 20 years or so ago, so that wealthy people don’t buck income tax by giving themselves capital gains instead (currently 18% instead of 40/50%). Raises far more money from the truly wealth.

I also, strongly, think Sunder’s misunderstanding the psephology on where this sort of perceived positioning will make a real difference, but I need to give Jennie the laptop, so, y’know, you’ll have to wait till later for my pearls of wisdom (‘ve moved from the SW, where we’re defending, to Yorkshire, where we’re hoping to gain, so have a good understanding of what’s going on).

Anyway, Nelson’s letting his blinkers get in the way of reasoned analysis, but for interesting reasons, more later 😉

Hi Mat,

“when the full interview is published, I’ve asked some other LD bloggers to write up some responses which I’ll edit into a piece here, I’m pretty sure Sunder’s misrepresenting him from what’s been said alone, and the Speccie definitely is.”

That would be great – looking forward to reading it!

tim f,

I’ve been self-employed, as a one-man business. So perfectly democratic – 100% support for all actions agreed. Still had the pesky regulations to deal with though. How does that work in your mindset?

@37: ” when the full interview is published . . ”

The Economist confronts Nick Clegg with some tricky question in this long interview, just out:

Bob, reading that now, rather long, I’m about half way through. But, it’s a full transcript, and while it does contain some choice quotes that I agree with (“I don’t think that is tacking right”, etc), it doesn’t, and can’t, misinterpret or misrepresent him, you can read the full thing for yourself.

Happy to discuss any bits you’re personally not happy with or doubtful over, but a post that essentially says “here’s a transcript of an interview” isn’t worth much, and TBH I’d rather leave op-eds on interview transcripts to others.

However, this Speccy interview, on the face of it, appears to be a fairly transparent misrepresentation to favour the Speccy line and their preferred outcome for the election, in which Clegg’s words are being twisted or interpreted in a very creative way (as discussed above) to favour their normal line.

The reasons for this are interesting, and I’ll go into it further, but I find certain interpretations of it, well, both interesting and telling. Specifically, Sunder obviously takes it at face value and thinks Fraser Nelson is right to say Clegg’s doing a right wing shift- I disagree, but that’s opinion. What I find weird is when he says:

It would also seem to signal that Clegg has his sights rather more on anti-Tory defence in the south-east and south-west than in taking the urban fight to Labour.

When the opposite is actually true; if Clegg is taking this line, then he’s hurting the LD chances in the SW and SE, and improving their chances in northern and urban LD/Labour marginals.

It is for that very reason I suspect the Speccy interpretation, as helping the Tories in the SW while hurting Labour where the Tories can’t win is obviously beneficial to their preferred party.

I’ll try to turn the above thoughts into a coherent and explained post later, or possibly integrate it into the post tomorrow, but think about it, doesn’t this line really help the Tories both ways, a lot more than it does anything to the LDs?

This is the FT’s verdict on the long interview of Nick Clegg in The Economist:

“So much for the decisive slayers of the budget deficit and yah-boo politics in Britain. Nick Clegg’s new list of the demands he would make for Liberal Democrat support in a hung parliament reads like old-fashioned fence-sitting.”

Unfortunately, I can’t read the FT comment, apparently I’ve read my full quota this month. Because their annoying system thinks Jennie and I are the same person and counts reading fully syndicated blog feeds. Bloody useless.

Then again, I didn’t read anything “new” in that interview, Nick set out his 4 core principles upon which he’d base any negotiation months back, nice to know journalists pay attention.

44. Sunder Katwala


your psephological point is interesting but complex. There is something in yr counterblast (the LDs are the liberal/centre-left alternative v the Tories in yellow-blue battles) yet it may also be that Clegg may be somewhat thinking he can bank the left-liberal vote in LD/C marginals he is defending, and that he would be vulnerable if he concedes low tax, small state territory to his opponent. Certainly this interview is not going to help him take northern urban seats from Labour.

Its a written through interview in the magazine. While we don’t have a window into what was in Clegg’s soul when he sat down with Fraser Nelson, what he was doing politically and in media terms seems clear enough.

Most striking is just how many Tory icons he name-checks in the interview, beyond what Fraser Nelson wrote online. That surely isn’t an accident on Clegg’s part, and I can’t see how it could be a misrepresentation on theirs.

Asked what LibDem policies would appeal to the Spectator reader, he lists ‘what my liberalism is about’ as civil liberties, freedom from tax, smaller government – then places most emphasis on the “purely spending cuts” and no tax rises policy as the most radical of all.

“Even Norman Tebbit thinks its a good idea. A lot of people on the conventional right have told me that they believe in tax freedom”. (It is not clear if it is Nelson or Clegg who mentions that Maurice Saatchi promoted the tax threshold plan as Tory Treasury spokesman in 2001).

He talks about David Davis having “a genuine commitment to an agenda on liberty”.

And “the last time that capital and income was equalised was under Nigel Lawson. What I am advocating is a Nigel Lawson policy”

On Thatcher, “what I find so striking is that the spirit – dare I say it – of the battle against the dominance of one vested interest, the trade unions, is exactly the same spirit we need now” [on the banks].

PS: I do always try to be fair to the LibDems. I wrote that his Demos pamphlet “places the LibDems firmly on the centre-left of the progressive spectrum” – because, reading that pamphlet, that one did.

45. rob tennant

MatGB – why did Clegg allow the whole blue rose in the mouth thing? And the cover with the blue rosette pinned to his jacket? Come on. You’re telling me the Spectator did that without his go-ahead? His tax proposals are progressive but he seems to want to not come across as such. You can’t have it both ways.

This is why the Lib Dems, despite Labour’s massive haemorraghing of support and members over the last 13 years, have not replaced them as the party of the centre-left. It aint got nowt to do with the unions, who arent able to exert any influence over what the Labour govt has done. It’s because you aren’t prepared to say, we are THE progressive party, we arent looking for Tory voters, we are of the left without a doubt.

Clegg believes that to be the case, why cant he just tell the Spectator to fuck off? And tell them he is a proud leftie? What is this bullshit about Thatcher? You lot are shooting yourselves in the foot. Your place in the polls hasn’t changed in years. Grow up.

46. rob tennant

I just dont get his positioning at all.

In Lab/LD fights, it helps if the LDs are more left-wing.

In LD/Tory fights, right wing voters already have the Tories, so the LDs should be more left wing to get everyone else.

How does it help them to essentially say Vote Yellow Go Blue?

47. Sunder Katwala


The Spectator certainly won’t have consulted Clegg about the cover, the cartoons, etc.

Sunder, am very aware that you’re normally fair minded, whihc is partially why I’m responding strongly. You have the advantage on me in that you’ve read the actual magazine, I only have the online exeprts you link to, I’ll see if I can get access to a copy somehow (buying it isn’t an option unfortunately, perhaps a library).

Clegg may be somewhat thinking he can bank the left-liberal vote in LD/C marginals he is defending

He definitely knows he can’t on this one, taking the constituency I know best, Torbay, if you look at the fall in majority from 2001 to 2005, that’s almost entirely due to a swing from LD to Labour, voters that had previously been squeezed by an effective campaign to the Tories out and keep them out. The rest is a swing from LD to UKIP (and yes, we’re pretty sure that’s where the votes went directly).

Clegg knows this. Seriously, he’s positioning the party within the liberal left wing spectrum of politics, including policy announcements and similar (the point someone made up thread about anti-trust stuff is true, but he’s not taking that from the Americans, the USians took that from the 19th Century Liberals, he’s very genuine about wanting to attack vested interest).

Certainly this interview is not going to help him take northern urban seats from Labour.

Isn’t it? Seriously? Sure, it’ll put off some former LAbour voters, but in a lot of cases,t he votes he needs to really pick up in those seats isn’t former Labour voters. It’s anti-Labour voters. In the SW, the LDs are the anti-Tory party of choice (it’s certainly why I joined), but in many parts of the urban north, the LDs need, in order to win, to squeeze Tory voters.

Who do, lest we forget, exist everywhere (moreso than either of our preferred parties) and are prepared to change their votes (sometimes) if the reasons are good.

Re David Davis, I agree with him on that, Davis is genuinely committed to personal liberty; you may disagree with him on some points, but on that specific issue I don’t see how you can even think that’s contentious.

And yes, he mentions that the tax policy in capital gains is to take it back to how it worked under Nigel Lawson. He’s definitely said this before, in my presence, either in a speech or in an interview, that’s not new, it’s a statement of fact.

Now think. In order to win, a partyu needs to assemble a broad church coalition of voters, and sell its policies to voters. The Speccy is read, broadly, by Tory leaning voters, who’re broadly but not exclusively Tory voting, and are far more likely than most to end up paying a lot more tax under Clegg’s policies. Don’t you think appealing to what worked under LAwson, to those people makes just a bit of sense?

Both Blair and Brown have appealed to Thatcher’s memory on occasions, but if Clegg does it he’s revealing his Tory colours?

I’m also slightly bemused by the way you both mention how he stresses no tax rises, but also talk about how he defends a key tax rise by comparing it to Lawson. That tax rise is a clear and central part of the party policy platform. It’s been reiterated by Clegg and others many times, including in this interview.

Curious; is there an actual transcript? As the part that you quote talking about how he’s not planning a tax rise just doesn’t look like the sort of language I’m familiar with. Is it possible Nelson has either misunderstood (this is Fraser Nelson here) or is misrepresenting? He’s clearly talking about tax rises in other parts of the interview.

And his “endorsement” of Thatcher isn’t exactly glowing is it? It’s a rather begrudging “dare I say it” recognition that vested interests, in all forms, are a bad thing; that’s a basic underpinning of liberalism generally.

And rob? As Sunder says, the Speccy won’t have consulted him, that’s not how magazine publishing works.

And on the ‘replacing Labour’ part? In the elections last year, the LDs polled more than Labour.

In my constituency, when the sitting (Labour) MP was elected, they held virtually every council seat. Now they’re in third place in virtually all of them, and most are held by the Lib Dems. Sorry, but in many (but not all) parts of the country, the Lib Dems have already replaced Labour as the active opposition to the Conservatives.

Politicians, generally, don’t throw away the opportunity to persuade potential voters to vote for them. It’s a Speccy interview, and the language he uses is taking fundamentally liberal, left wing ideas (taxing the rich, breaking up the banks) and selling them to fundamentally right wing voters. I can’t see how persuading people to vote for a genuinely liberal agenda is a bad thing.

Feel free to sit in a partisan bunker sniping at those who want to reach out to build a better chance of winning and beating the damn Tories.

49. rob tennant

You want to beat the Tories? You want to reach out?

Then don’t give ammunition to the Spectator. Don’t praise Thatcher. Don’t idolise the destruction of organised labour’s ability to fight for a better future. I know you agree with me and disagree with Clegg, as do most Lib Dems. But why the blind loyalty? It’s even worse than when Labourites exhibit blind loyalty to Gordon Brown. There are a zillion reasons for Lib Dems to be annoyed with their leader, from his poor ability to communicate that the Lib Dems are the party of the centre left – yes he wrote it in some pamphlet for pointy heads, but your frozen position in the polls proves that he either isn’t trying to get the message through or whatever it is he is doing is totally wrong – his inability to consult the party before making stupid headline-seeking pronouncements about “savage cuts” and free education being “an aspiration”, that time he cussed the shit out of your own frontbench team on a plane…

Stop defending him, start critiquing him! Being honest about your leader and your party’s failure is the first step to turning around your bad position in British politics.

50. rob tennant

In the elections last year, the LDs polled more than Labour

Would that be in the Euro elections, with proportional representation, and UKIP coming second? Does that mean UKIP are about to replace Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Tories based on their poll position?

Answers on a postcard to: staying steady at 18-19% in the polls for 5 years

Rob, my loyalty isn’t blind. Your position on this is, however, obviously deeply flawed and counterfactual and, from the way you’re wording it, partisan Labour.

The thing most likely to give us a Tory majority at the next election is the Labour leader. The thing most likely to stop it is a strong Lib Dem showing.

And I’d hardly call a record high for this stage in the election cycle a frozen position. So unless you’re going to change the record and come up with a point I haven’t already answered I’m going to ignore you, feel free to be less partisan and more constructive, basing statements on actual verifiable facts.

I hate it when people make multiple comments in a row, especially when I’ve replied to one as another comes in.

I was talking about the local elections, the ones UKIP were barely contesting and that was fought on genuine actual issues. The EU elections are always different, and yes, people do vote in different ways for different parties when the electoral system is different, one of the basic reasons why I favour reforming both systems as neither is good.

53. Charlieman

@26 Sunder Katwala quotes the Spectator: “‘We’re saying “purely spending cuts”, and for a number of reasons. If you want the economy to grow, you must stimulate demand. Any economist will tell you that the best way to do this is by giving tax breaks to the people who tend to spend more of their money they receive.”

This is an interesting change in LibDem policy, but the final sentence is significant. The people who are most likely to spend their income rather than saving are the poorest. So the policy is consistent with liberal values when government has no money: reduce government spending, but tax the poorest less and allow them individual choice about how their cash is spent.

Charlieman, that’s why I dont’ understand the quote (and will seek clarification from Nick’s office if that is a direct quote, is it?). Nick a) doesn’t have the power or authority to change policy like that and b) talks elsewhere in the interview about the tax rises he’s planning (specifically capital gains tax).

So either he misspoke, it’s a missquote, or he’s being quoted out of context or without full explanation. Regardless, policy is to raise taxes in a number of areas.

You’re right about the whole tax the poorest least thing, which is exactly what the policy (that I voted for at conference) says we’ll do.

Seriously, can someone confirm that’s a direct quote from Nick? If so, I want to know what he actually meant, rather than what Nelson is interpreting him as saying he meant, as I trust Nelson’s journalism (on both talent and bias grounds) not one jot).

55. rob tennant

The thing most likely to stop it is a strong Lib Dem showing

I agree. Which is why I cannot fathom why you would think Clegg is doing a good job of ensuring that strong showing. Can you please explain to me how Clegg is doing a good job? Don’t try to obfuscate by saying your comparable position in the polls is “a record high”, please tell me how under the current electoral system hanging around 18-19% is going to give you enough influence even in a hung parliament. Please make the case for Nick Clegg doing a good job of ensuring “a strong Lib Dem showing.”

You are saying: “Actually he and the Lib Dems are doing really well, tip top!”
Everyone else is saying: “Why aren’t they doing a lot better?”

Because based on this interview, and his record, it looks like he is making a hash of things.

You accuse me of partisan Labour-hood, yet I actually vote Lib Dem most of the time. What baffles me is that you aren’t willing to accept one iota of criticism against Nick Clegg. Is he doing anything wrong at all?

56. rob tennant

Credit where credit is due, lifting the poorest out of tax is a progressive move. But why has he failed so spectacularly to get the message across, when both of the main parties have nothing to say to the electorate and therefore people are all ears for something sensible and inspired from another party.

57. Sunder Katwala


It is a direct quote in the magazine, precisely as in Nelson’s blog preview

“Purely spending cuts” and the current policy positions are reconciliable, in this sense, which I think is the natural reading.

The LibDems have commitments to various tax and spending change. (The £10k income tax threshold costs £17 billion, to give the largest ticket item). If we accept the party’s own assumptions, the current LibDem policy package is fully costed. So he is committed to some tax rises to pay for tax cuts, and some spending increases (pupils premium). The capital/income tax reconciliation forms part of that package.

He is saying that he esitimates that – when cyclical factors are removed – he thinks the structural deficit will turn out to be £80 billion a year (and not £178 bn). This is not accounted for in the party’s current policy agenda, as I understand it. So he is saying that his policy (and party policy, he says) would be that – whatever the size of the structural deficit, he favours it being closed solely by spending cuts, as opposed to tax rises. (The third option would be higher debt/slower debt reduction, and it might be that this is just a comment about spending/cuts, since the when and how much question is partly a judgment about the economic cycle).

Rob, very simple answer to why he’s perceived as doing badly–the national media, especially the main news broadcasts, want to ignore him and/or belittle him.

This will change during the election campaign as they’re required to give equal coverage. Colleague told me last week (she doesn’t know my heavy involvement yet, I’m new) told us at lunch how she’d watched him in an interview on the news, and had no idea who he was.

Most people get their news from the 6 or 10 news broadcasts, who rarely cover him at all. It’s hard to get the message across if you don’t get coverage.

Which is why he’s not going to turn down an interview with a magazine that appeals to a key group of voters (not you and me, I suspect, but a key group).

For the opinion poll position, it’s linked to the media position, but the LDs in the ICM polls (the only polling company worht paying attention to, generally) are doing as well as they were doing at this stage in 2005, when they were getting mass coverage due to the Iraq stuff.

But even YouGov, which is always quite bad at getting the LD vote share right, gives him higher good/bad ratings compared to the other two leaders.

Nick’s a new leader, he’s made some mistakes (and I’ve criticised him for them here, on my own site, on LDV and to his face when I’ve met him), but I, personally, don’t believe, yet, that this interview is a mistake, I’m defending the language used because, in the same situation, I’d likely use similar language. However, as I’ve restated, I haven’t seen the full pieve and am reserving judgement.

I’m more than happy to see him criticised if I believe the reason for the criticism is legit. In this case, I don’t, yet, but am reserving full judgement.

He’s trying to get the message across, and will I’m sure do a lot better during the actual campaign (when a lot more people will pay attention anyway), but the news media don’t tend to give him time outside of the graveyard slots. It’s impossible to judge a leader before they’ve fought a campaign, that’s especially true of a Lib Dem leader; he’s doing much better in performance ratings than either CK or Paddy did at this stage in their leaderships, and they lead the party to record gains.

Sunder, if it’s a direct quote the interpetation is difficult; I’ll seek clarification, as that’s not my interpretation of stated nor planned policy.

60. rob tennant

Fair do’s, perhaps either I underestimate or you overestimate how much the “equal” coverage broadcasters are obliged to give him and the LDs will raise the LD vote in the general election. Generally most voters decide who to vote for before the campaign even begins, or at least are leaning one way or another and the campaign serves to cement their voting intention rather than to change it. In 2005 you had the Iraq war and tuition fees as real motivations for people to vote LD; this year, I can’t see any obvious reason why ordinary punters would opt for the LDs.

In any case I hope you do well. Has Nick specified which form of PR he would fight for as part of the 4 pledges? And did he consult any party body before he made the 4 pledges?

61. rob tennant

Also…. “savage cuts”?? I saw him say those words at your conference, and my entire body cringed. Has he said where these savage cuts will fall?

Rob, I’m basing my assumptiong based on what’s happened in virtually every GE I’ve studied for the last 22 years (ie the history of the party); a lot of voters make up their minds during the campaign (and famously change their minds in the polling booths as they did in 1992).

And yes, he’s specified STV in multi-member seats, long term party commitment. And yes, the 4 pledges were drawn up by the elected Federal Policy Committee, which he chairs as leader.

My reason why ordinary voters would vote LD? Better policies, across the board, relatively untainted by corruption scandals. Plus, when you put them head to head?

Nick might not be the best leader ever, but he’s better than Brown or Cameron. And there’ll be 3 leadership debates giving him the chance to get that across. He might, of course, crash and burn, but I doubt it.

63. Sunder Katwala


Thanks. Interested in any clarification you get. This was why I made the comparison with ‘savage cuts’ I also think its new, and my reading is that it is leadership kite-flying.

My guess/prediction is we will see both some challenge and some (perhaps limited) softening of this along with a shift in that direction: it is an important substantive policy debate (in a way that the Thatcher language simply isn’t). That might look tricky for him if there is a reaction, but this preference for a lower ‘tax burden’ is something I think he does want to drive within the party.

My personal guess we may hear Cable say not entirely ruling out backing tax increases in all circumstances – but strong balance of preference against them where spending cuts can be identified. Clegg will use language about hitting the limits of taxation; wants party to be party of lower taxes, tax freedom and smaller but smarter/fairer state, there is waste there(but perhaps tempered with a wait to see the books, difficult circumstances, etc).

I would have been fascinated to have heard Nick Clegg on this news item:

“A female pornographic film director has been selected as the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Gravesham, Kent, it has been announced.”

Sunder @ 26:

The Thatcher comments are mainly fluff and symbolic positioning, whether sensible or not.

To me, it looks more like a debating tactic. You’re giving an interview with the Speccie, and the Speccie worships Thatcher. They’re also somewhat pro-Cameron. So what do you do? Pointing out that if one accepts Thatcher’s reforms as being a good thing, one has to question why Cameron does not show similar reforming zeal with regards to the banking sector (which could be claimed to be a much bigger problem for Britain in 2010 than the mining sector was in the 1980s). I don’t think that this equates to ‘praising Thatcher’.

Come on, we get debates like this all the time on blogs: “If you think X is such a good idea, why aren’t you in favour of Y?” is a fairly common rhetorical question to ask, and does not imply that the person asking it is in favour of X themselves.

Matt @54: “no tax rises” seems to mean that the total tax burden will not rise. He does, however, clearly intend to redistribute tax from the poorest towards the richest. You can do that without a ‘tax rise’ by planning a tax change. That seems to fit with everything quoted here, and represent the gist of what Cable has been talking about?

On the case for more income redistribution in Britain, see this recent Guardian report on a new OECD publication: Going for Growth:

“The chances of a child from a poor family enjoying higher wages and better education than their parents is lower in Britain than in other western countries, the OECD says”

A summary of the OECD’s recommended policy reforms for the UK is here:

BobB: this is old news even for this site. I recall Unity (I think?) doing a piece in depth about it last year, and the Fabians published a briefing document which elaborated on the theme via an analogy with Premiership-era football.

While various parts of the Thatcherite revolution had theoretical merit (as Clegg recognised in the interview which we should really be talking about) the whole, taken as a whole, can now be assessed historically. The main result of her Premiership is that the newly arrived middle classes from the Baby Boomer generation were persuaded to pull up the ladder behind them.

Every cohort born since 1970 (which includes me) has had less chance of upward mobility, let alone each generation. The last generation of people who had a realistic chance of dying wealthier and better-educated than their parents were born before the Beatles split up.

70. rob tennant

Guys, let’s not forget that not only have Lib Dem Peers tried to add some illiberal amendments to an already illiberal Digital Economy Bill – but a crucial climate law failed to pass earlier this month because not enough Lib Dems bothered to turn up to vote for it. That’s change we can believe in that works for you – building a fairer but evidently not a greener Britain.

70. Yet that amendment is now being amended, and the party itself is going through a democratic process right now to stop the party from backing illiberal measures like the DEB. I’d like to see the other two parties react to their supporter and member concerns when one of their lords made a shocker in as pro-active and meaningful manner.

It’s also a bit rich to blame the woes of the climate change bill on the Lib Dems when they turned out in the same kind of proportion of their total party as both Labour and Tories. 20% of Tory MPs didn’t turn up that also could have won the vote, how about 8 of the 50 or so Labour MPs that didn’t turn up?

All parties failed to pass the bill, it’s ridiculous to single out a single party, especially one of the parties that actually did stand up for it.

64. He supports her even though her work isn’t exactly his thing.

I’m increasingly of the opinion that Maggie Thatcher is to politics what the Velvet Underground were to music. No fucker apparently liked her at the time but all cite her as an influence.

Eww, I can’t believe I just compared Thatch with the Velvets…gonna listen to Sister Ray for half an hour now.

74. Charlieman

@54 MatGB: “So either he misspoke, it’s a missquote, or he’s being quoted out of context or without full explanation.”

Apologies for the slow response, Mat. I think that Clegg got thoroughly mugged by the Spectator, expecting the interview reporting to be more respectful when he went off official message. Perhaps it would have been better if he had learned the lesson earlier in his leadership.

Even though we live in unusual times (again), Clegg is the first LibDem or Liberal leader in my lifetime who has shown serious interest or understanding of economics. So there are going to be occasions when the leader, Vince Cable and official party policy differ. More lessons need to be learned at Cowley Street about how to patch up differences and to explain that principles are more significant than detail. Circumstances change so often that detailed hypothetical policies are meaningless.

75. rob tennant


Yeah, but how many Lib Dem MPs are there? 63? Because there are so few of them, it makes much more of a difference when say 20% of them decide not to turn up. There’s no escaping that they really dropped the ball on this one. Saying Labour and the Tories messed up is no excuse: no one expects anything of them anyway.

76. Charlieman

@70 rob tennant: “Guys, let’s not forget that not only have Lib Dem Peers tried to add some illiberal amendments to an already illiberal Digital Economy Bill…”

Current debates and legislation surrounding the digital world and copyright are totally dismal. Rights holders cannot, within themselves, come up with a coherent strategy on how to protect intellectual property creators. That’s before you consider acceptability of such a strategy by ISPs (the digital postal workers) or consumers.

So when Parliament gets it wrong, blame the people (experts, blah!) who should be framing the argument. On this occasion, I do not think that LibDem peers Razzall and Clement-Jones got it wrong. I think that they were playing with the bill for their own reasons.

77. Sunder Katwala

Think we’ve really upset Cleggy now. Tomorrow’s Guardian interview

“They have four conditions from which they will not deviate: a pupil premium for poor children; a pledge to raise the personal tax threshold to £10,000; reform of the City; and reform of the political system.

But are they chimeric and difficult to pin down, with different slants put on policies for different political audiences? In an interview with the Spectator Clegg says their tax allowance rise is something Nigel Lawson could be proud of, while in this interview he spent 13 minutes arguing vociferously against research by the Fabian society that shows this policy to be regressive“.

If you want to know why he’s wrong about that …. Left Foot Forward will publish our detailed analysis of the tax threshold plans overnight.

Sunder, the four key pledges are hardly new at all, they’ve been publicly extant and announced several times, and are hardly chimerical.

I’ll look at LFF tomorrow, but if you’ve somehow managed to show that taking large numbers of people on the minimum wage completely out of the tax system somehow makes them worse off, I’m very interested; I know you can prove anything with statistics, especially if there’s a partisan point to be made, but living as I am below the official poverty line currently, it’ll make my family a lot better off.

I a) haven’t been able to read the Speccy and b) am unable to contact people in Clegg’s office as they’re at Conference and I’m not (for financial reasons, shame, I’ve got stuff to vote on while there), so my response is delayed.

When he told me when I interviewed him that there were some people (naming two Guardian journalists specifically) who would never be happy regardless of what he did, I thought it was hyperbole. Looks like he was right.

And the Lib Dems who’ve refused to contribute to my proposed article as Labour partisans would twist everything, especially those who’ve carfeully built up a rep for fairmindedness, may actually have a point.

Do you really mean to come off as a partisan attack shill? It’s something of a volte face from your usual demeanor.

79. Sunder Katwala

I mainly blogged the Clegg Speccy interview because it was an interesting talking point. I did it for Next Left, but LC also used it (which they have an open invitation to do). It wasn’t a massive attack: I think there is some strategic sense in why he is playing it as he is, and it reflects his interests to.

But the tax analysis is serious. Its a 30 page report modelling the tax proposal’s distributional impact: its co-authored by our research director Tim Horton and Howard Reed, who used to run the IFS tax models and developed the ippr’s simulations. I don’t think the facts are challengeable, and the analysis is not shrill. It praises the pupil premium too, and the higher taxes at the top.

I am sure LibDems with expertise in the area – most obviously Steve Webb – would agree with it. David Willetts has made similar points in the past when Lord Saatchi was proposing tax thresholds.

I frequently praise the LibDems (electoral reform, civil liberties) when they lead progressive arguments, and challenge them (child trust fund) when we feel they don’t. This sort of policy scrutiny is very valid and legitimate – and in my view can only help to inform policy and political debate.

Similarly with Labour: we were pretty vocal on an Iraq inquiry, for example. And we have frequently offered detailed tax analysis and critiiques of Labour too, as well as on child poverty, inequality, etc

This was some pre-2005 advocacy challenging Blair’s flagship tax pledge. If they’d listened and left it out of the manifesto, they wouldn’t have had to break a promise

80. Sunder Katwala

People can download the new paper from Left Foot Forward analysis of the distributional impact of the LibDem threshold change here

I have blogged some of the main points at Next Left

I don’t really understand the idea that this sort of policy scrutiny is illegitimate, and the charge of partisan shilling doesn’t stand up. We often made common cause with the LibDems over the 50p top rate when that was their policy, which the Fabian tax commission had advocated too. We mobilised a broad coalition of civic voices to defend inheritance tax, criticising the government as wellas the opposition on that issue, when publishing Stuart White’s pamphlet and holding events on this

We also had some success there, getting a threshold freeze accepted

So I think we can show that we have consistently advocated progressive tax changes and opposed regressive tax changes, whoever is making them. I think there are many things to admire about the LibDems, but this policy spends £17 billion in a way that increases inequality and relative poverty, so people interested in fairness in the tax system might want to think about whether it is the best way to achieve it.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Joe Laking

    Good post by @nextleft on Clegg's praise for Thatcher and call for cuts: is it at odds with Kampfner's recent backing?

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    Clegg praises Thatcher:

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    Nick Clegg praises Thatcher. There go the potential Lib Dem votes.

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    RT @ms_treesap: Lib Dem leader praises Thatcher, calls her an inspiration.

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    @euromidlands let me guess ur a lib dem well heres 2 articles that 1 and read this 1

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    @SoapboxL You see I remember Lib Con moaning before the election Clegg was saying we should have 'savage cuts'

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