Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nick Clegg lightly stuffed by Paxo

At about the time the Liberal Revue was starting in Bournemouth on Monday, Newsnight showed Jeremy Paxman's interview with Nick Clegg.

Nick acquitted himself reasonably well, but the interview did show the problems with our current policy of promising to save £20bn of wasted government spending but not saying where those cuts will fall.

Nick gave two defences of this approach.

The first, which is also the one commonly offered by Cowley Street insiders, is that we cannot give too much details now in case the other parties steal our plans. I do not find this convincing. If you are aware that the government is wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, how can it be to your disadvantage to say so loudly as soon as possible?

The second is that we do not know what state the economy will be in after the next election. That is true, but if things are so uncertain, how can we be so specific about the sum we are going to save.

What Nick needs to do is to promise something headline catching like "a slaughter of the quangos" and then have half a dozen strong examples to back this slogan up. Unless we build support for such an approach first, we risk being painted by Labour as a party of hard-faced cutters of public services.

Of course, the scrapping of identity cards would be a great headline catcher in this context, but the savings have that have already been snaffled by Chris Huhne for his policing reforms. Add to that the fact that Vince Cable is not being used more to front these tax plans, and you have to wonder whether there are tensions at the highest level in the Lib Dems.

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