Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric

Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP, issued a warning to Nick Clegg today about his rhetoric on fairness at a fringe event at Lib Dem annual conference.

Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP, issued a warning to Nick Clegg today about his rhetoric on fairness at a fringe event at Liberal Democrat conference. Dr Harris, former MP Susan Kramer, and I were taking part in a Lib Dem Voice event titled ‘Coalition – Fairness? For Whom?’

Referring to Nick Clegg’s recent article for the Financial Times ‘Fairness should never be a numbers game’ where the deputy prime minister argued, “many people who have analysed the government’s decisions have adopted a purely numerical view of what fairness is about”, Dr Harris said:

“You can’t say because IFS analysis doesn’t agree with my rhetoric, it’s wrong.”

The former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon accused Lib Dems in Government of “raising expectations” on fairness and suggested that they should no longer claim that spending cuts could be fair. He urged instead that they should show how cuts would be fairer than had the Conservatives been left to their own devices.

Responding to my remarks about the ratio of tax rises to spending cuts, Dr Harris said that he had “some sympathy with the position that we should be raising more from taxation” to pay for the deficit. He said it was “just populist and wrong” to ignore tax evasion while cracking down on ‘benefit cheats’.

Dr Harris did, however, back up his party leader on his new position on the pace of deficit reduction arguing that timing was not a matter of principle but of judgment and that we could not know who was right for several years.

At a Q&A session, leader Nick Clegg answered a series of questions from a packed hall. Poverty campaigner Linda Jack asked whether Nick Clegg could still be trusted to run the Lib Dem party and said, “so many of these cuts are going to hit the poorest”. He faced tricky questions from the audience about the Coalition’s decision to switch from the RPI to CPI price index, which will reduce the uprating of many pensions, and on the timing detention of children in immigration cases.

Clegg insisted it was “still very early days” in the Coalition and that “the way the Coalition is being portrayed is taking time to catch up with the reality of the Coalition”. The Government was “by its very nature … a Coalition of compromises”.

Mr Clegg went on to say:

“I strongly agree with Vince that any immigration system … has to have some flexibility and pragmatism.”

He said that if the system proved to have “perverse outcomes” for business then we should be “sorting that”.

Mr Clegg said that Labour would have carried out “the vast majority of cuts” that the Coalition was planning. According to the June Budget, however, Labour was planning £39 billion of spending cuts by 2013-14 while the Coalition will cut £63 billion over the same period – most than 50 per cent higher.

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21 Responses to “Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric”

  1. yorkierosie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric: http://bit.ly/9ARjAP reports @wdjstraw live from the @libdems conf #ldconf

  2. Shamik Das

    Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric: http://bit.ly/9ARjAP reports @wdjstraw live from the @libdems conf #ldconf (on @leftfootfwd)

  3. Duncan Stott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric: http://bit.ly/9ARjAP reports @wdjstraw live from the @libdems conf #ldconf

  4. PODCAST: Fairer? For whom?

    […] Foot Forward also have their own write-up of the event. pp_flashembed( 'powerpress_player_243', {src: […]

  5. Mr. Sensible

    There’s trouble there, then.

    I’m afraid we’ve heard all this about tax avoidence from Mr Clegg before. This afternoon, I believe he pledged to recover £7 billion in avoided tax. That is a very small fraction of what I think some have said is the £100 billion avoided a year.

    Clegg is just trying to head off trouble.

    And failing.

  6. More signs of Lib Dem divisions « sgmpolitics

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  7. Matt

    According to the OBR it was £44 billion of cuts, but either way wouldn’t around 2/3 be fairly described as the vast majority? I’m sure it would be if around 2/3 of the population had voted for labour 😉

  8. Chris

    When is it going to dawn on the LibDems that Cleggy is a centre-right politician. FFS we’ve had 30 years of Thatcherite bullshit, with the political pendulum pushed far to the right; we’ve had 13 years of Labour, while accepting the bitch’s consensus, slowly pushing the pendulum back. Now Cleggy is trying to snap it back further to the right than Thatcher ever managed.

  9. Michael Burke


    you are right to highlight this huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality- Clegg’s FT article that fairness isn’t about numbers, after analysis of the numbers shows his fairness claim to be untrue – would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

    Dr Harris is completely wrong when he argues that the timing of cuts is a matter of judgement, with unknowable results for a number of years. The good Dr will know that medicines are tested over a number of years and the results aggregated and analysed. This fiscal medicine has been tried in the 1930s, by Britain under Thatcher, and by many Euopean governments now, as in Ireland and Greece and failed each time.

    If this were a medical treatment subject to rigorous checks, it would be banned by now.

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  11. John Lees

    Evan Harris is a FORMER lib dem MP. He is a FORMER lib dem because he lost to the tories. He lost because he was UNPOPULAR. He is a sanctimanious out of touch FORMER polititian and is no doubt still bitter.

  12. John Lees

    Also what is so liberal about subjecting taxpayers to lie detector tests? This is a political sham – HMRC is not forgetting to collect tax – the only ways to change the grim pubic finances are to raise taxes (VAT done) or cut spennding.

  13. Dr Shibley Rahman

    RT @leftfootfwd: Harris warns Clegg on fairness rhetoric: http://bit.ly/9ARjAP reports @wdjstraw live from the @libdems conf #ldconf

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  17. Dr Evan Harris

    @leftfootfwd @GuyAitchison @leechalmers @ralphferrett @xentahl Correction: Please see my comment on *this* blog post http://bit.ly/bnCpEz

  18. Evan Harris

    This is a accurate post except 1) that my criticism of Nick Clegg about over-stating the fairness point in the fringe meeting and in the Guardian was not an “attack” and 2) that the headline misses the main point of what I said which was that there needed to be both the arithmetic to allow a Lib-Lab coalition and sufficient policy overlap and the latter requires efforts by both parties in policy development.

    @Mr. Sensible – I agree that £7bn recovery is only a fraction of of tax avoidance but it is difficult which is why 13 years of Labour saw avoidance escalate, or did Labour do little on purpose?

    @Matt – I think it is clear that Labour *were* going to have to make the vast majority of the cuts now planned – at least in scale, albeit over a longer period. The only way it would be less is by more tax rises and that is about changing the ratio from 77/23 to 67/33.

    @Chris – If Nick Clegg is centre right then so is New Labour. The difference is that in the Lib Dems the policy platforms (which are not centre right) are decided by the party not the leader and his clique. Labour really have to sort this ought imo.

    @Michael Burke – If there is a double dip due to the speed of the cuts, or if there is signs of one and the Govt does not loosen the fiscal reigns, then that will have been a major error. My point is that the Government needs to look closely at the macroeconomic effects and adjust policy accordingly. That is – for what its worth – doctors do with any treatment. The Government should be helped by the independence of the OBR. If the Government does need to change tack as a result of low growth then Labour will be able to say “I told you so”.

  19. Evan Harris

    Sorry – the first para of the comment above relates to another post on left foot forward http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/09/evan-harris-progressive-coalition-in-2015-if-the-arithmetic-is-there/

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