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Nick Clegg writes: Light at the end of the tunnel

February 5, 2015 5:20 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Today Danny Alexander and I outlined the Liberal Democrats' plans for taxes, spending and borrowing for the next Parliament.

When the Liberal Democrats joined the Coalition in 2010 we had a clear priority: to rescue, repair and renew the economy. Sometimes this has meant taking difficult and unpalatable decisions. We didn't relish the prospect of austerity, but we knew it would be a means to an end - and the end is now in sight.

By anchoring the Government in the centre ground we have brought stability at a time of national crisis, and now those decisions are bearing fruit: Britain has the fastest growing economy in the G7, with record numbers of people in work and wages pulling ahead of inflation.

If we stick to the sensible and balanced course we have set, there will be light at the end of the tunnel: an end to austerity in three years' time. But this sensible, balanced approach - this determination to finish the job in full and on time but to do so fairly - is only guaranteed if the Government remains anchored in the centre ground.

Here's what that means in practice: We have a balanced approach to tax and spend that asks the wealthiest in our society to contribute a little more. Our plans mean there is no need to increase income tax, VAT or National Insurance rates. Yes, there will be more cuts - £16bn worth, including £4bn from the welfare budget - but that means that in the second half of the parliament we will be getting the national debt down and putting money back into our public services. Our plan means that in the last year of the next parliament, we will cut £38bn less than the Conservatives, and we will have borrowed £70bn less than Labour.

The Coalition plan that we agreed in 2010 was rooted in a long standing Liberal belief that a fairer society is built on the foundations of a sound economy - a belief which goes back to the days of Gladstone. But it is clear that the Conservatives no longer see it that way. They see austerity as an end in itself. As George Osborne announced at the Conservative Party conference last autumn, they now see deep cuts to public services not as an economic necessity but as an ideological opportunity to shrink the state.

The Tories plan to cut a further £54bn a year from public spending by the end of the next parliament - that's more than we spend today on all our schools put together and four times what we spend on our police. That would mean they will have to make deep cuts to everything from nurseries and social care to police and the armed services. The saddest thing is that it is not necessary. We can balance the books, on time and in full, without that level of pain.

The Conservatives are making a deliberate ideological choice. They are choosing not to raise a penny more from the wealthiest in society. They are choosing to single out the working age poor as the only section of society that will have to make sacrifices. They are choosing to add billions more in unfunded tax cuts aimed primarily at the better off. And they are choosing to keep cutting even after the deficit has been cleared.

Labour are no better; they appear to have learned nothing in the five years since they crashed the economy. From what it is possible to decipher of their plans, Labour will not balance the books until the end of the next parliament - that's more years of spending restraint than necessary. It means borrowing £70bn more than our plan and wasting around £4bn more on paying the interest on our debt - money that could be spent on schools and hospitals instead.

Cutting less than the Conservatives and borrowing less than Labour, only the Liberal Democrats can offer light at the end of the tunnel.