So by general agreement Nick won. He certainly suprised me. He took my breath away: he was clearly the most highly spun and the most misleading.
His pitch was “Trust me, I am the only honest one. I am different”. So let’s have a look at one of his crucial answers to establish trust. His reply on MPs expenses was all too carefully worded. The impression he wished to give was mendacious – unlike the other two parties he implied the Lib Dems had been well behaved. Let’s leave aside the expensive rocking chairs and trouser presses, Lib Dem misjudgements well within the lax rules and standards of the day and no different from misjudgements by many Conservative and Labour MPs. Let’s ask Mr Clegg a thing or two about the Dolphin Square mob.
Several Lib Dem MPs rented nice mansion flats in Westminster near to the Commons. Nothing wrong with that. The landlord wished to change the terms of the leases in his favour, so he offered substantial sums to tenants to agree to alterations in their terms.
Four Lib Dem MPs , the Dolphin Square four, accepted and banked substantial sums for private profit in return for allowing the landlord to put the rents up. The taxpayer was paying the rent in their cases. So why didn’t Nick Clegg tell those Lib Dems that was wrong and demand that they paid the money to the taxpayer? David Cameron made various Conservative MPs repay money for lesser misjudgements. The Parliamentary authorities investigated the Lib Dem cases, found against the MPs and made them pay back sums. Does Mr Clegg now agree these MPs behaved badly? Why didn’t he think so at the time?
In such circumstances Mr Clegg’s approach last night was wrong. Mr Cameron made another fulsome apology including himself and his party in it. Mr Brown used strong language to condemn some MPs, including Labour ones.
Worse than his approach to expenses is his approach to his manifesto. He goes round offering a tax cut, yet he also proposes £17 billion of tax increases. £5 billion of these take the form of closing unspecified tax “loopholes” – in other words a tax increase to be worked out and announced later. He claims his manifesto is “fully costed” and everything can be paid for, yet analysis has shown there are big gaps in the figures.
Of course last night he was able to exploit the position of the third party, escaping analysis and criticism for his programme whilst acting as detached critic of the other two. Meanwhile our country drifts towards a debt and deficit crisis with levels of borrowing similar to those of Greece. That is what we need to debate and tackle urgently. If we do not we will lose jobs, growth and prosperity.
Promoted by Christine Hill on behalf of John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU