Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Clegg's Gaffe Over Pensions Undermines Lib Dem Economic Policy Stance

We all make mistakes and as a teacher I've made some pretty embarrassing gaffes, but, then again, I'm not pitching to be prime minister. The Liberal Democrats' economic policy has been rebuilt around tax cuts for low and middle income earners and yesterday, with Vince Cable's help, Nick Clegg won his conference's agreement to his proposals. The idea of such a redirection is to fight off Conservative threats to Lib Dem seats further south and to challenge Labour for key marginals in the north.

Fair enough, you might think, it's not a bad policy stance to be the only major party offering tax cuts right now. But Clegg's response to a question on the amount old age pensioners receive was a lot more embarrassing than his admission/claim that he'd had 30 lovers.

His response of 'I think it's about £30 a week at the moment' revealed someone who is wholly out of touch with the groups of people for whom he proposes to stand up. In fact a single pensioner receives £90.70 per week and a married couple £145.05. To be honest, it reminded me of those lawyers and bankers in Polly Toynbee's focus groups in her Unjust Rewards, which I reviewed a few days back: they had no idea whatsoever what anyone earned outside their own over rewarded cohort. He apologised for his 'spectacular' mistake, explaining he'd had 11 back to back interviews and just came up with the wrong figure. Hmm.

Nick Clegg went to Westminster and Cambridge and sounds no different from Cameron and Osborne: a different world from most of those whose votes they are seeking to attract. With his gaffe, he has opened up a whole flank of his party's policy programme to ridicule at PMQs and elsewhere. Would Vince Cable, whom many think would have been the better leader, have made such a mistake? I don't think so either. It's a tough old game.

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