Clegg prepares for spending 'bunfight'


Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg at a factory canteen while on the campaign trail in Taunton

Listen hard in Whitehall and you will hear the sound of what Nick Clegg told me today was a "bunfight".

Ministers are squaring up for a battle over whose budget is to be cut next. A further £11bn in cuts have to be found and announced in June even though they won't be implemented for another two years.

Today the deputy prime minister insisted that the schools budget would continue to be spent on schools and not raided to limit the cuts at the Ministry of Defence, as some reports had suggested.

"Secretaries of State will take a lot of time over the next few weeks coming up with ever more exotic reasons why their budgets shouldn't be cut and other people's should be," he said.

"That's just the nature of the Whitehall bunfight that precedes a Whitehall spending round and I can't second guess the precise details, we'll announce that in June.

"But what I can tell you, that the protections for the NHS, the protections for schools, the guarantee that we'll spend 0.7% of our national wealth on the poorest people in the world through development assistance, they will remain there.

"And of course the schools budget is for schools, it is not there to run the day-to-day operations of the ministry of defence in military terms. It is there for schools, and it will always remain there, for schools."

Nick Clegg has always maintained that he only formed a coalition with the Conservatives because that was what the public voted for. Today I asked him whether he was ready to serve as Deputy Prime Minister under Ed Miliband. A hypothetical question he says ...a decision for the country.

But when he was pushed, he replied: "Absolutely. If the public say the only way in which this country can be governed in a sensible centre-ground stable way would be as a coalition, of different combinations as now, but still involving Lib Dems, I would, just as last time - the Lib Dems would just as last time - do our duty to the country, because what we care about is doing our duty to the country, to get this country through these difficult times to create a stronger economy, but to do so as fairly as possible."

It is clear that what many may see as unthinkable is - to the Lib Dem leader - simply the logical possibility of another close general election.

In the meantime, though, he appeared to fear that UKIP could push the Lib Dems into fourth place in this week's local elections.

I asked him why the new kids on the political block were beating his party in the opinion polls.

"I don't think it's surprising," he replied. "You see it in lots of European countries, where there's a lot of economical turmoil, of course it is attractive for political parties to pop up and say we don't have to take any difficult decisions. I think the more UKIP policies - rather than the lack of them - are scrutinised, the less appealing they will become."

Asked whether there was a danger the Liberal Democrats could be relegated to the fourth party of British politics behind UKIP, he added: "I don't think that will happen in the general election."

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    You may well be right but unless something seismic happens before the next GE I don't see either party pulling the electorate round to their way of thinking. Indeed I wonder whether the next election will be like 92 - a poisoned chalice for the winners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Clegg is the shield used by ministers of this government to protect them from their own core party supporters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    @68 afn
    Nice idea but ...

    ... at the present time, tax would have to start at £1 and would need to be at a rate above 50%. We are told high earners dont even want to pay at 40% & 50%, so they will not like 55%!

    In addition, the public sector redundancies you list would push up the Benefits bill and, hence, the tax rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.


    Good advice but too late for me, I've already put my money down - on a Lab/Lib coalition. 6/1 odds I got.


    Just to point out that the new consensus is that it's okay to talk about immigration - not that it's okay to talk ONLY about immigration. That's still a no-no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Millipe "compulsary job guarntee" what does that me then more massive statet spending on none jobs strangling the rest of the economy

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    @62 Jon
    Please tell EdM that so we don't have to go through his shambles as well as any other shambles that are going on.

    Nick Clegg appeared to be brilliant on WATO today compared to the Labour Leader's performance.

    But I guess that's not a hard thing to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    60 M yes please BBC play back the moribund interview on tape loop for the next 2 yrs. Eds wonder plan revealed is to borrow +12 billion to fund a 12 mnth VAT cut in the expectation that 2% delta will make a material difference, restore the UK to growth, re-ballance the economy so after 12 mnths it will all be fine. Wow is he ever from the shallow end of the oxbridge talent pool. Nailed him MK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    62 Jon112k - not the only ones trapped by dogma. For Moribund its still borrow, spend, tax, spend, spend spend spend and growth will go up - cut VAT and borrow more and demand will materialise. No need to cope with spending we just need more borrowing. Hard working families, blah, blah, blah. At least one 18 yr old blogger has worked out his generation will be paying for it for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    In the event of coalition, it is right the Libdems see if they can form a government with the largest party - though they face getting kicked from all sides as the reality sinks home.

    Neither side has convinced the electorate yet - it's certainly not time to go to Corals yet to bet on the next GE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Same again
    "yet another failed labour policy"!

    The 'failure' dates even from Beveridge, the 'acceptability of unemployment': then 'up to 3%', now 'who cares if necessary for recovery on City terms'?

    Low pay discouraged UK labour, drew in desperate from even 'cheaper' economies, a symptom of REAL problem, lack of equal partnership

    Labour SHARES the blame. With us. INCLUDING Coalition

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    #80 the UK nationals might have had a better employment propects under labour if they had not let in 5_000_000+ imigrants, 5% of workforce are immigrants, all the housing cost etc , yet another failed laobur policy of the 1997-2010 period

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "This article shows"?

    Does Nick Clegg's excuse stand up?

    'The mess left by Labour' (after global tsunami)?

    Hardly: facts and witness 'wrong'

    We don't need to 'get back' to 'debt-fuelled largesse', but to pull together

    That would mean sharing, work & any austerity & the rewards

    OUR... our FULL employment, as able

    Not just a season of merely 'less' for the City 'entitled'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Nick Clegg: such a hard-to-fathom politician. An enigma really.

    Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, this much we know but very little else.

    We could take a guess at what makes him tick but it seems rather pointless to do so since that would be all it is - a guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    the DEBT / TAX spending FUELLED largesse of the Brown area will have lasting effects for the UK. This article jus tshows you how out of control the economy was up til lthe crash of 2008 and we again going to get no were near that level for 20 years until all the debt and INTEREST has bee nbrough down to a sustainable level.

    The real battle is only just start to play, 3 watsed years

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    rockRobin7 @75
    "difficult decisions"
    Made 'difficult', by mischief
    Worse, made vain, by mischief

    Take "more debt", mounting supposedly in 'growth failure', in fact from failure to implement Emergency Rationing of Income

    We, and our markets, have been trashed: talking 'in it together', but delivering asymmetric austerity, confidence-killing

    The 'difficult decision' is yours: classic Dragons' Den

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    71 - Megan. ...where are the people...? Well Megan, they are out there. People with sensible ideas, integrity & a strong sense of values. But, the political system (cyclical) bars entry to Parliament. One has to be "selected" at local level & if not following party ethos, then no chance, except as independant. And, even if elected, the independant has no power & would also be corrupted by "system"

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Nick Clegg should stick to icing cakes and leave the difficult decisions for others to take. Seeing as he and the labour party have decided to try and argue the case for more debt we shoul now hear how they intend to spend it given that Alistair Darling's temporary cut in VAT failed to increase spending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    anotherfakename @73
    "no rewards"
    Dragons' Den dilemma!

    Equal partnership in a stellar 'business', or lion's share of dog's dinner ('successful' or not, in a dying world, crises and wars, like earthquakes and tsunamis, no stopping them)

    Delivery-boy, shoveller of hard-core, brain surgeon, chief executive officer, PM, in which - given ability, global peace thrown-in - would you find most 'reward'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    @70. All for All
    An interesting idea, but if you all get the same income there are no rewards for effort so no one makes it.
    A base benefit to ensure you don't starve, to allow you to share a house between a group etc. and keep clean will be better than we have now. Taxing all earnings you have at a flat rate makes both tax and benefit simple but keeps the incentive to strive for a better life

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @52. bertiebond
    When university was 'free' many of the courses were science and engineering and only 2 or 3% went. Now the courses are media studies and the like because they have to be dumbed down to let 50% or so in.
    Students are being lied to that these degrees are worth the money -they aren't, the public are lied to that we need degrees to hold our own - we don't. Make things - nuts, bolts...


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