Clegg’s speech: Long on dramatic pauses, short on facts

Nick Clegg's spin on issues such as the NHS, the environment and child detention didn't quite match the facts, in his Liberal Democrat party conference speech.

Nick Clegg recieved the traditional leader’s standing ovation at Liberal Democrat conference this afternoon. His speech was probably easier to write given he had a slightly skewed view of the last year-and-a-half of coalition government.

For example, the Lib Dem leader argued the coalition’s package of public sector cuts was the only reponsible course of action – to disagree was to be irresponsible.

He said:

“Our first big decision was to clear the structural deficit this parliament. To wipe the slate clean by 2015. This has meant painful cuts. Agonisingly difficult decisions. Not easy, but right.”

Yet the cut in demand and resultant slowed growth may lead to the deficit actually being greater than projected under the Alistair Darling plan.

As Cormac Hollingsworth wrote on Left Foot Forward earlier this week:

“While in March the OBR was slashing growth forecasts for just this year, we’re now facing a “lost decade” (the IMF’s words not ours) and growth is being serially downgraded.

“The IMF downgrade of cumulative growth of 1.5% will have a significant impact on borrowing. Without growth we face a real risk borrowing will not be falling fast enough for the deficit to halve.”

One of the biggest cheers in the hall came for the Liberal Democrats’ stance against child detention – it was, according to Clegg, what made it worthwhile to lose seats. However, this has not been acheived yet. Despite progress, two deadlines have already been passed.

Just two weeks ago Left Foot Forward reported:

“…the new 4,500 capacity child and family detention facility at Pease Pottage near Crawley, euphemistically entitled ‘pre-departure accommodation’, has opened.”

There was then the great boast that raising the income tax threshold – which to be clear does not help those on the lowest incomes but those on low to medium incomes – was a great act of social justice.

He said:

“[We are making ] a new economy where the lowest-paid get to keep the money they earn. That’s why a Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury has put two hundred pounds into the pocket of every basic rate taxpayer and taken almost a million workers – most of them women – out of income tax altogether.”

Yet the burden has merely been shifted from income tax and National Insurance to VAT, and the poorest lose out as a result.

As Tim Horton and Howard Reed wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“Overall the distributional impact of the tax changes is an “inverted U shape” – with the poorest households and the richest households losing more than households in the middle.”

Then there was the rallying cry of the green agenda.

He claimed:

“We have stood by our commitments to act on the environment… we have acted immediately.”

While how green this government has been can be questioned from lots of angles, perhaps the most iconic is the question of nuclear energy – where the balance of opinion has been more firmly against than the other two parties.

Yet the industry is recieving hidden subsidies from the government.

As Joss Garman wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“New findings showing the nuclear industry could receive a £3.43 billion windfall this way between 2013 and 2026 via a plan outlined in Mr Huhne’s new energy market reform proposals.”

And of course, the health service has not been safeguarded by Clegg’s “fighting to keep the NHS safe”.

As Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George wrote on thes pages this morning:

“The bill runs the very high risk of producing a national health service which is driven more by private profit than by concern about patient care.”

Maybe if Clegg read Britain’s number one left-wing blog more often, he could catch up with the facts.

See also:

Clegg attacks Labour/union link – but keeps schtum on Tory/City linksShamik Das, September 21st 2011

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