Cleggologists will mark down the Deputy PM’s speech today as a typical effort. There was basically
nothing in it that was new – but Clegg still put it across with more punch, and more persuasively, than most of his colleagues could manage. All of the slogans and pre-announced policies
added up to something that sounded, fleetingly, like a plan for growth. Although we’ll still have to wait for Vince Cable’s review to see the outlines of that plan shaded in.
Clegg’s main point was straightforward enough: that the government has to, and will, go beyond deficit reduction to stoke the embers of the British economy. He then ranged across everything from
the national infrastructure to – a theme of this week – endowing the British
workforce with skills. His most resonant line was that the coalition didn’t just inherit sickly public finances, but "a failed economic model … of economic growth based on debt and on
That said, however, Clegg was consistently strongest on the deficit. There was a welcome return for what is one of the coalition’s most effective self-justifications, first made by the Deputy Prime
Minister in his conference speech last year:
"But let me also assure you that we are determined on our course of action to tackle the deficit. The outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in his now famous parting note
that ‘there was no money left’. Of course it was much worse than that. They left us well and truly in the red. This year we’ll be spending over £43bn just on the interest
on our debts.
That’s £830m per week. Just under £119m a day. For that money, we could build a new primary school every hour. We could buy a new Chinook helicopter every day. We could take
11 million people out of paying income tax. We could triple the number of doctors in our hospitals."
And he tendered the obvious counterpoint to Ed Miliband’s own speech earlier today:
"There is a moral dimension to this question too. I have never understood those who say it’s more ‘progressive’ to delay tackling the deficit, so that we shuffle off
responsibility for our debts to the next generation to deal with. This strikes me as little short of intergenerational theft. It is the equivalent of loading up our credit card with debt and then
expecting our kids to pay it off."
All of which further erodes the idea that Clegg could ever work with a Labour party whose economic
policy is dictated by Ed Balls. And that Labour could ever work with Nick Clegg.