With Clegg in Liverpool
I’m at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool. I was not in the main hall to hear their leader’s speech today, but watched it in the exhibition area. Here are a few observations:
It was confidently delivered, but rather defensive. The main thrust seemed to be reassurance that the Lib Dem part of the coalition was a left of centre force on the Conservatives.
The message repeated most often was that this government would not be like that of the 1980s. This is clearly a big worry for delegates here. Tim Fallon MP joked at their pre-conference rally that it was Mrs Thatcher who had brought him and many of the Conservative MPs he was now working with into politics, if for rather different reasons.
Yet this is quite hard to sustain given that Mrs Thatcher cut the deficit by a 50:50 split between cuts and tax, not the 80:20 signed up to by the Cleggster.
Much of the speech could also be read as a reply to some of the key themes of the TUC Congress. The central passage was a strong defence of the government’s debt reduction timetable. I detetct that this is the area where many Lib Dems have growing doubts, no doubt amplified by Mervyn King’s speech last week.
This was coupled with a direct appeal to public service workers and a denial that the cuts were part of a strategy to roll back the state, even though this has always been a liberal concern.
To those thousands of people who work in the public sector, who do such an outstanding job in our schools, hospitals, police forces and local councils, I say this:
I know these are very unsettling times for you. I will not disguise the fact that we need to take difficult decisions today to ensure there are good, affordable public services tomorrow. We have protected the funding for the NHS, the biggest public service of all.
We will provide more, not less, money for the children in our schools who need the most help. But I know you will be thinking: why should you have to make any sacrifices to deal with a recession you didn’t cause?
Why are the bankers who helped create the mess not taking more of the blame? Why should you have to accept a pay freeze, or changes to your pension, when the richest still get away with paying little or no tax at all? I agree.
That’s why we imposed a levy on the banks in our first budget. It’s why we’re working hard with our friends in Europe and beyond on the idea of a financial activities tax on profits, pay and bonuses. It’s why we’re going to be forcing the banks to own up about the ludicrous pay and bonuses they give out. It’s why our Banking Commission is looking at whether to split the banks up completely to keep our economy safe. And it’s why we’re working flat out to get the banks lending again to small businesses, the lifeblood of our economy.
We have done more in five months than Labour ever did to sort out the greed and the recklessness of the banks. Our approach is simple: they helped bring down our economy. It must never happen again.
Beating Labour on this is not a great challenge, but with bonuses rolling again, this will not convince public service or private sector workers who lose their jobs because of the cuts.
But for me the bit that had me politely heckling the monitor with mutters of ‘pre-Keynesian’ was the homily about the nation’s finances being like a household’s.
But Will Straw has already made this point at Left Foot Forwards.
update: Next Left has terrific fun playing ‘hunt the Keynesian’.