Adur, West & East Worthing Party including East Arun

Extracts of Nick Clegg’s speech at Welsh Liberal Democrat conference

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg will today [Saturday] speak at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Cardiff.

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On Labour

Under Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, Labour has retreated into the comfort of opposition. With no recognition of the mess they made of the economy. No apologies and no idea of what to do next. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have learned nothing. They took our economy to the brink with their reckless spending, reckless borrowing and reckless debt. And now they have told us that that they would do it all over again.

Welsh Labour like to blame the Coalition for everything. But who crashed the economy? Who went on a prawn cocktail offensive to suck up to bankers in the City of London? Who scrapped the 10p tax rate? Who had a top rate of tax of 40p for all but the last few days of their 13 years in office? Who let youth unemployment spiral out of control long before the economy crashed? And who created a benefits system that destroyed the incentive to work?

Let’s take no lectures from Labour about fairness. It is the Liberal Democrats who have lifted the 2m lowest paid workers out of paying tax and cut taxes for millions more ordinary workers. It is the Liberal Democrats who have guaranteed generous rises in the state pension through our pensions triple lock. It is the Liberal Democrats who have overseen a massive expansion of apprenticeships. It is the Liberal Democrats who are introducing shared parental leave and flexible working. And it is Liberal Democrats who are helping to give children the best start in life through the extension of free childcare and the Pupil Premium.

The only plan Labour has is more of what got us into this mess in the first place – more spending, more borrowing and more debt. Only the Liberal Democrats can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

On the economy

Building a new, stronger economy is not easy. I don’t pretend it’s all sunny uplands from here. Britain’s economic recovery has proved more challenging than anyone imagined. The crash in 2008, deeper and more profound than we knew. Globally, things are still precarious. You only have to look at what has happened recently in Cyprus to be reminded of the danger that looms when markets question the ability of governments to live within their means. Countries around the world face the same, hard truth: We must all pay the piper in the end.

I want to make one thing clear: We will not flinch on the deficit. But to be unflinching is not to be unthinking. And the idea that the choice is between a cruel and unbending Plan A and a mythical Plan B is simply not the case. Balancing the books is a judgement, not a science. And our plan has always allowed room for manoeuvre. When economic circumstances around us deteriorated and UK growth forecasts suffered, voices on the right called for us to respond by cutting further and faster. But instead we took the pragmatic choice to extend the deficit reduction timetable. Far from being rigid and dogmatic, we chose to meet our deficit reduction target on a slower timetable. By international comparison we are proceeding at a sensible pace. The fiscal contraction this year and next year is less than under Obama’s deficit reduction plans, and, indeed, less than France and Spain’s plans too.

And it is simply not true – as our critics on the left pretend – that we are slashing and burning the state. Did you know that at the end of this Parliament public spending will be 43 per cent of GDP? That’s higher than at any point between 1995 and when the banks collapsed in 2008. While reducing the deficit is essential, it remains a means to an end. And that end is a stronger economy with lasting, sustainable growth. Sound public finances are one piece of the jigsaw. But so are better skills, smarter regulation, a more competitive tax regime for business. All of which we are delivering.

On the local elections

Only Liberal Democrat councillors have shown that they have the right priorities in tough times. Creating jobs. Fighting to protect services. Making sure that when times are tough, cuts are made with care, with a scalpel instead of an axe.

You won’t get that from the Conservatives. In Leicestershire, the former Conservative Council Leader spent £210,000 on his own personal chauffeur. In Somerset, because the Tories have insisted on cutting opening hours for rubbish tips and introducing charges to use them – a “tip tax” – flytipping has rocketed, leaving local residents stuck with the bill for cleaning it up. In the Cotswolds, after announcing nearly one and a half million pounds worth of cuts, how did the Conservative council try to boost staff morale? They hired a motivational magician – costing £19,000.

And what about Labour? What are their priorities?Do you know how the Labour council in Derby are choosing to spend residents’ money? On emotive street posters passing all the blame for their cuts on to the Coalition Government, costing thousands of pounds – while at the same time they’re looking to make drastic cuts to homelessness services.
 
The Liberal Democrats are different. Only we can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society – both. Only we have the right priorities in tough times.

On Welsh devolution

As Liberal Democrats we know that a fairer society for Wales means more power for Wales too. That’s why we pushed for the Silk Commission and why we want a proper debate about how to devolve more power. This is something we can only do together. Together as nations; together as governments; and together as Liberal Democrats.

Devolution has always been and remains a basic tenet of our party and key to the sort of liberalism I believe in. We make compromises daily in government, but be sure of one thing: our commitment to devolution, indeed my commitment to more powers for Wales, is as strong as it ever was.

ENDS

Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.