Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clegg: Judge us on five years, not a 100 days.

I am always wary of people who ask that we wait for history to render the final judgement. George W. Bush was always convinced that history would be kinder to him than contemporary opinion, which is merely an admission that things don't look good at the present, and the hope that the more time passes the better one's decisions might look.

Now Nick Clegg is becoming the latest politician to ask that we judge his government over a longer period than the one we are witnessing.

The truth is that this government doesn't expect anyone to reach their verdict after 100 days. We expect to be judged on what we have achieved in five years.


All new governments claim that they are governing for the long term. Most end up being pushed around by short-term events. All claim they have a plan. Most end up with no plan at all. All say they're going to ignore headlines. Most end up driven round the bend by the press.

So I understand why people might react with scepticism to the claim that, this time, this government will be different. But as this new coalition government approaches its first 100 days in office, I believe the claim is a strong one: we will govern for the long term and we'll stick to our plan.

I'd love to know what that plan is from a Liberal Democrat perspective. I seriously have no idea what the Lib Dem plan is. I know that there are going to be horrendous cuts to public services, but those strike me as Tory plans rather than Lib Dem ones.

He mentions one thing in his article, for which he does deserve applause.
We are restoring a plethora of rights to liberty and privacy.
This is the only place where I can detect a Liberal Democrat agenda. They are to scrap the identity card scheme and have launched their Your Freedom website, where they encourage people to tell them which laws the public think should be repealed. And I do think the Liberal Democrats will have a better understanding of privacy issues than the government of Tony Blair, who appeared to think that all privacy had to be surrendered so that he could better keep us safe from al Qaeda. The issue of privacy was one that was utterly lost on Blair. If the Liberal Democrats can restore respect for that principle then they will have achieved something.

So credit where it is due to Clegg.

However, seeing how his popularity has plunged after a mere 100 days in office - and with the public yet to feel the full force of the cuts that he and his Tory associates are yet to unleash - one can't help feeling that this first 100 days might turn out to be a honeymoon for him. He may, in time, look back on this as a golden period.

We have to play the long game. The depth of the economic difficulties we have inherited from Labour means there are no short-term fixes. The size of the deficit means that whichever party or parties had come into government would have to face short-term unpopularity in order to restore long-term success to our economy. Reducing public spending has already led to some controversial decisions and, with the autumn spending review approaching, we are on the brink of many more.

Getting the economy back on track is this government's priority; it will no doubt remain that way for our entire time in office. Setting out a bold plan on the public finances is unavoidable if we are to retain confidence in our economy, avoiding decades of debt, higher interest rates and fewer jobs. There is no social justice in passing on the dead weight of this generation's debts on to the shoulders of the next.

At this point Liberal Democrat policy sounds an awful lot like Tory policy. Clegg has simply found a language, by claiming that what he is doing is ensuring the "social justice" of not passing this debt on to another generation, to try to disguise this Tory policy as a Liberal Democrat agenda.

But search for what he said before the election and one will find not one word from his own lips in support of what he is now proposing. Indeed, one finds only warnings from Clegg that rapid cuts would lead to double dip recession and disaster.
CLEGG: It would be foolish and dangerous to propose rapid cuts that would cause so much economic and social disruption that they simply cannot be delivered.

Remember: the structural deficit is about £90bn – almost enough to pay for the entire NHS.

Removing it will be painful, come what may. And while the economy may be at the start of recovery, it could be on the edge of a double-dip recession.

A premature fiscal contraction could cause a lot more harm than good. In that context, I think eight years is a reasonable starting point.
It's no wonder that the public now find it hard to work out what the Liberal Democrats stand for.

The language Clegg is currently employing certainly sounds Liberal enough - "There is no social justice in passing on the dead weight of this generation's debts on to the shoulders of the next" - but that language is being used to defend policies which Clegg himself told us would lead to "economic and social disruption".

The Liberal Democrats might manage to restore some elements of our privacy which Labour have eroded, but I feel that this coalition government will be remembered for the savage cuts to public spending which are to be announced in October.

I can well understand why Clegg wishes that we hold off judgement till five years down the road, but that's to make the huge assumption that this coalition will last that long. When these cuts are announced, Clegg's Liberal Democrat colleagues will see their faith in this coalition tested to the extreme.

Click here for Clegg's article.


daveawayfromhome said...

So it's wrong to pass a debt off to the future, but okay to pass judgement off?

Kel said...

Oh yes, that's the logic.

What Clegg and the Tories fail to remember is that this country finally paid off our debts from WWII during the premiership of Tony Blair.

And yet Clement Atlee, facing debts much worse than those we face today, went on to build our national health service.

The Tories love to pretend that they have been left with no other options, but that is a lie. They have chosen to do what they are doing.