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Coffee House

Lies, damned lies, debt and Nick Clegg

8 May 2012

9:06 PM

8 May 2012

9:06 PM

Does it matter if the Prime Minister and his deputy mislead the country about what they are doing to the national debt? Neither of them seem to think so, if today’s Essex Relaunch today is
anything to go by. First, Cameron:

‘The problems of over-spending and too much debt can’t be solved by even more spending and even more debt.’

He chose his words for consumption by the ordinary voter, the factory workers who formed his backdrop. Who, listening to that, would guess what Cameron and Clegg are doing with the
national debt?

Clegg, I’m afraid, went far further and suggested that the debt was being eliminated.

‘I think we have a moral duty to the next generation, to our children and our grandchildren, to wipe the slate clean for them. We set out a plan, it lasts for about six or seven years,
to wipe the slate clean. To rid people of that sort of dead weight of debt that has been built up over time… We owe it to the youngsters of today to lift that dead weight of debt off their
shoulders.’

[Alt-Text]


If Clegg were a company director, and used this language in a financial report, he would go to jail. To use an analogy the Tories adopted, a baby born in 2010
inherited £17,000 of national debt. By 2015 that will be £21,000 (more here). By
what stretch of the English language does Clegg think this is that ‘wiping the slate clean’?

Clegg talks about ‘moral duty’ and at the risk of sounding pious, I’d say that his moral duty is to level with the public, to be completely honest about the extra debt with which
his government is saddling the people. It’s going up by 60 per cent over the parliament, just as much as Labour proposed. If Brown had stood up and said his debt programme would ‘wipe
the slate clean’ the Tories would have jumped down his throat — and rightly.

Now, you can say that harsher cuts would be dangerous — even counterproductive to the recovery. But it is outrageous that the Deputy Prime Minister should stand in a factory of workers and
claim that his government is ‘wiping the slate clean’ on national debt when he’ll leave that slate (and those children) with 60 per cent more debt than when he arrived.

It’s odd: two otherwise-honest men have decided to use language which is designed to convey the opposite of what is happening with the national debt. Given that both say they want to restore
trust in politics, it is utterly inexcusable.

Hat-tip to Patrick O’Flynn who alerted me to Clegg’s remarks, which were not in the No.10 version of his speech.

This was no slip of the tounge. Clegg’s office tweeted the ‘slate’ line after the speech and Pete has critiqued Osborne’s ‘credit card’ analogy which Cameron used again today.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


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