Nick Clegg’s speech does not deserve to be taken seriously


by Septicisle    
8:57 am - December 18th 2012

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When a politician says a current item of spending is unsustainable, you can be almost certain that they are lying. Last time round it was public sector pensions, ministers claiming something had to be done, when Lord Hutton’s report was clear that overall costs were due to fall, not rise.

Yesterday Nick Clegg claimed that the welfare system was in danger of becoming unaffordable, with the economy tripling in size since the 1970s while welfare spending has gone up seven-fold. This might well be true, but this ignores two key points: first that spending on unemployment/sickness benefits amount to only 3% of GDP, and second that spending on welfare overall, including pensions, has levelled off in recent years.

Clegg’s entire speech was, as could be expected from someone desperately trying to claim he’s done anything other than prop up a Conservative government for the last two and a half years, filled with arguments along the same lines.

Straw men abounded: there are apparently some on the left who think benefits are an automatic right with no responsibilities, and that it’s oppressive and discriminatory to assume those with health problems or a “difficult background” can “make something of their lives”. To call this rich from a politician who’s gone along with the introduction of a work programme that doesn’t work, and who has done nothing to hold ATOS to account, even when they have offices in buildings with limited disabled access, risks understating the levels of chutzpah of involved.

Even more laughable, which takes some doing, was Clegg’s claim that opposing the 1% rise in benefits for the next three years doesn’t “make rational sense”. As Paul at Though Cowards Flinch points out, it made perfect rational sense last year to George Osborne when he decided benefits should rise at the same rate as inflation; then he wanted to protect those “who are not able to work because of their disabilities and those, who through no fault of their own, have lost jobs and are trying to find work”. What had changed this time?

Simply that Osborne and friends felt they were on safe ground in smearing every benefit claimant as a scrounger, and so could put up a political dividing line between themselves and Labour. Clegg, naturally, went along with it, and much of his speech recycles the exact same language used by the Tories, to the point where he aped Cameron’s “without hope or responsibility/aspiration”.

The one point he made that did have something resembling a kernel of truth was the observation that “[W]hen two-thirds of people think the benefits system is too generous and discourages work then it has to be changed or we risk a total collapse in public support for welfare existing at all”.

This though is based on the misconception that out of work benefits are generous; I don’t think I’ve seen a single columnist or newspaper editorial point out that as Jobseeker’s Allowance for the over 25s is currently £71 a week, if Osborne’s uprating takes place those out of work can look forward to an extra 71 pence a week from next April.

It’s true that when other benefits are taken into consideration alongside JSA or ESA that the picture isn’t quite as bleak; housing benefit, council tax benefit and child benefit for those who have a family alter the picture somewhat, but they don’t change the fact that the system is often very far from generous, and will be even less so once the £26,000 cap comes in, ignoring exceptional individual circumstances.

Much of the rest of the speech was given over to claims of how everything the Lib Dems have done in coalition has been rooted in the centre ground, a sure sign of desperation from a party which gained support at the last election because, err, they were rightly seen as being to the left of centre.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments


And yet it is clear the Tories wanted another £10bn off welfare and didn’t get it. And when the 1% uprating was announced Labour were all over the place trying to decide whether to agree or not (before coming out with some spurious deserving/undeserving poor nonsense). So the Liberal Democrats clearly are in the cente on this one.

The true centre of British politics is significantly to the left of all 3 main parties, so when Clegg claims that he and the Libdems occupy the centre this is just so much fantasy, if not outright mendacity.

@mike cobley – If the true centre of British public opinion was actually to the left of all the main parties, at least one of them would move there to gain extra votes.

On this benefits issue in particular, it’s clear that there is widespread public opinion that benefits are too generous. If anything, that is to the right of the 3 main parties. Clegg is right to highlight the problem that if the welfare system is not seen as fair and efficient, it won’t enjoy public support, and people will vote for parties that are in favour of scaling it back even further.

The problem for Clegg on the left/right/centre positioning is that, despite positioning himself quite nicely in the centre, most people are at least a little bit centre-left or centre-right. In opposition, this worked fine – you don’t overly offend anyone, and pick up disaffected voters who are displeased with the current government. In power, he doesn’t have that luxury.

4. gastro george

“On this benefits issue in particular, it’s clear that there is widespread public opinion that benefits are too generous.”

I think you might find that public opinion is rather dependent on how this question is framed. I think you’d get a different answer from parents even well above median income if you asked if their child benefit should be reduced.

Genuine question:

You know how certain right-wing types like to make out there are no cuts, because total spending is still rising every year?

Well, I understood that the reason this is misleading is that year on year, *welfare* spending (together with debt interest payments) is going up – largely because of our ageing population. Hence even though *total* spending is not falling, the share of the pie available to spend on public services, after welfare benefits like pensions have been paid out, *is* falling.

But if spending on welfare is not in fact rising as a proportion of GDP – other than as a temporary response to the recession, anyway – surely that can’t be right.

What am I missing?

The trouble with welfare is that it is like morality. Everyone thinks it is other people who shouldn’t get it. But they are pure as the driven snow. Look at Chancellor Osborne. He whines on about scroungers, yet he takes expenses from the tax payer to maintain a paddock for his private use. Scrounging is endemic on the tory back benches where millionaire tories have longed enjoyed “welfare” from the state to clean their duck ponds and moats.

And of course corporate welfare is now the global right wing policy of choice. Branson sits in his tax free island gobbling up billions of juicy corporate welfare. Military, farming has long been the welfare of choice for your millionaire tory.

As for Clegg, His “I’m not a tory” routine is wearing rather thin these days. With each lost deposit at each bye election, it seems the public is seeing through his lies and duplicity. But he will die rich. When he leaves politics I’m sure fat backhanders will come in from all the private health companies he has helped steal the NHS form the public. What is more interesting is how spineless, and naive other Lie Dem MPs have been. They have all followed Clegg off the cliff. And to read Lie Dem Voice is like a political version of Disney where everything is Brilliant. Deluded and moronic is your average Lib Dem voter.

7. gastro george

@GO – Welfare spending is rising.

Joe: So the centre ground of British politics as it stands is allowing under 25s to claim housing benefit, but to ask everyone of working age to accept a real terms cut for the sake of the Tories’ latest political strategy? What would we do without the Lib Dems, eh?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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