Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Nick Clegg unveils a "manifesto for the next generation"

Today, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg unveiled a "manifesto for the next generation" launching the party’s pre-manifesto, an 80-page document that will form the backbone of the party’s 2015 election platform.

The document includes a host of policies aimed unapologetically at realising the potential of children and young people.



Launching the pre-manifesto, Nick said:

We are now just 10 days before a momentous decision for the United Kingdom: the referendum on Scottish independence.

The pre-manifesto I am launching today repeats my party’s longstanding commitment to Home Rule; we’ve been advocating it for as long as we have been in existence.

What’s remarkable about that commitment, at this moment, however is that our Liberal Democrat voice is no longer a lone one.

For the first time in my political lifetime, there is clear, unwavering unity on this question. Finally, everyone who believes in the United Kingdom believes in more power - more control for Scotland, in Scotland.

Further announcements will be made in the next few days.

But what will be abundantly clear by the time of the referendum on the 18th is that Scotland isn’t choosing between an unchanging status quo and the change of independence.

But choosing between the uncertain leap of independence, and a guaranteed safe path to more powers – delivering more in Scotland but with the back up of the broad shoulders of the UK.

An unstoppable process has already begun, if the Scottish people choose No, to guarantee that a further substantial transfer of powers will occur. Change is on its way.

I think anyone looking around the world today will see it is a fragmented and fluid place.

We face huge new threats and dangers.

Power is shifting from west to east.

Though we have finally reassembled our economy after the financial crash, anyone can see that the churn and uncertainties of economic globalization have not gone away.

Meanwhile, we see the rise of bloody conflict in the Middle East, and threats on the borders of Europe, too.

Nothing could be more important, in this dangerous, shifting world, than finding a way to stand strong together with our friends, our neighbours and our allies.

We are safer, stronger and more prosperous, when communities and nations and people work together.

Together, the United Kingdom has achieved so much that we could not have achieved alone.

So much progress, so many achievements: from ending slavery to founding the NHS, from the most generous aid budget in the world to our victorious Team GB at London 2012.

I don’t have a vote in this referendum but I care about the result.

I’m an English MP, from an English constituency. I don’t have a vote in this referendum but I care about it passionately:

Because I believe with every fibre of my being we will all be worse off, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, if we start working on a divorce settlement, instead of working together.

So that’s why I hope, like so many millions of people across the UK, that the Scottish people will vote to stay part of our remarkably successful family of nations.

Today the Liberal Democrats are publishing what we call our pre-manifesto: the first big building block for the manifesto we will put to the British people at the General Election next year.

We are the only party which produces one of these.

It’s in order to give our members the opportunity to debate, amend and vote on the policies that will eventually go into our final manifesto.

That all happens at our Conference next month.

And it’s a document which matters more than it ever has.

The Liberal Democrats are a party of government now.

75% of our previous manifesto was successfully negotiated into the Coalition Agreement, according to University College London’s Constitution Unit. 75%.

And just think through the Coalition’s most significant, signature reforms:

- the biggest ever income tax cut for millions of people;

- the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension;

- the £2.5bn Pupil Premium;

- the biggest ever investment in renewable energy;

- the biggest expansion of apprenticeships in a generation.

All Liberal Democrat policies from that last manifesto. We may be the smaller party but time after time we have come up with the biggest ideas.

So we take this manifesto process seriously, and we totally accept – I totally accept – the need to show that what we say is credible and deliverable.

We’ve learnt our lesson from tuition fees – and we’ve learnt it the hard way.

There will be no repeat of that mistake.

The commitments we make will constitute an ambitious, distinctly liberal vision for Britain – but they will also reflect the tough fiscal realities the country continues to face.

Yes, the recovery has been secured, but the years of restraint are not done.

Wherever a policy costs money we are stress-testing it to make sure it is feasible as we continue to balance the books.

This time our proposals, taken together, are actually more fiscally modest and financially smaller than five years ago and, while we’ll set out our costed plans in full when we publish the final manifesto, we’ve already begun setting out necessary measures for raising revenue and cutting spending.

What you’ll find in this document are workable proposals which, crucially, build on the things we’ve already done.

When we say we’ll protect spending from cradle to college in the next parliament, we’ve already safeguarded schools’ funding this time around.

When we say the Liberal Democrats will keep on cutting income tax - raising the point at which people start paying tax to £12,500 - Danny Alexander and I have already brought income tax down Budget after Budget, year after year.

And when we say we’ll finish dealing with the deficit – we’ve already reduced it by a third, and by the end of the parliament that will be half.

It is because of our record in THIS Government that people can believe in our promise of more for the NEXT Government.

We’ve spent the last four and half years proving we can be trusted with people’s money – taking the difficult decisions to clean up Labour’s mess.

At the same time we’ve shown that, even when budgets are extremely tight, you can be more than a government of bean counters: protecting the services people depend on most and still investing in some big, transformational reforms.

And in order to give people absolute confidence that we’ll get it right again next time round, the Liberal Democrats are doing something neither of the other parties will: we’re telling you now how we’ll complete the repair job to the economy and how we’ll run the public finances once it’s done.

I’ve already said my party will stick to the timetable we’ve set out in Coalition: eliminating the structural deficit by 2017/18.

As for how we get there – well, that’s where we part company with the Tories.

They want to take a whopping £12bn out of the welfare budget, hitting people who are in work but still poor.

We, on the other hand, will finish the job in a way that is fair: that means through a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises, including, of course, asking those with broadest shoulders to make some additional contributions, for instance through our Mansion Tax - extending new council tax bands on higher value properties.

After that we’ll run the books according to two new rules.

First and foremost we’ll begin lightening the burden of debt currently facing our children and grandchildren.

There is nothing remotely liberal or fair in handing on sky-high levels of debt to future generations.

By next year paying the interest alone will be £59bn the government's third biggest item of spending, after social security and the NHS.

For that money you could build around 6,000 new schools.

You could increase the NHS's budget by more than a half.

So, as long as the economy is growing, we’ll get debt down to safe levels, at a sensible rate, reducing it year-on-year as a percentage of GDP.

Second, we’ll run balanced budgets, ensuring stable, sound public finances in the long term – but in a way that allows us to invest in the things we and future generations need.

According to our balanced budget rule governments would need to live within their means, with the money we spend on public services growing roughly in line with the growth of the economy as whole.

But there would be one significant exception: we would be able to borrow in order to fix Britain’s creaking national infrastructure.

And for me, personally, that means housing above everything else.

Right now Britain needs between 250,000 and 300,000 new homes every year to meet demand.

Despite some good steps taken by the Coalition we’re still not building anywhere near that.

Mark Carney, Christine Lagarde – all of the experts will tell you that this critical shortage of homes is now the biggest threat to our future economic stability because it drives up prices and that's how you get housing bubbles.

And just as it’s a betrayal of our children to saddle them with crippling debt, it's a betrayal to deprive them of the homes they need.

So forget the dogma, forget the ideology: if getting to grips with Britain’s housing crisis means borrowing a bit when times are good and debt is falling, so be it.

Unlike the Conservatives, we don't believe in an ever-shrinking state.

We won’t impose austerity forever and we are not so ideological we'll deny people the things they need.

Nor will we repeat Gordon Brown’s habit of slapping the words 'capital spending' on anything and everything just so he could get away with borrowing to pay for it.

Instead we are setting out an approach that is fair but responsible with it; credible without being cruel.

This isn’t just a slogan.

It isn’t us trying to split the difference between left and right.

Even in the toughest of times it is possible to marry economic responsibility and social justice.

Our record proves it and, given a chance, we’ll do it again: we’ll finish the job, we’ll finish it fairly, we’ll begin freeing our children from our debts and we’ll invest in their futures too.

And that ambition brings me to the very heart of the document we are publishing today.

Whatever happens in the debate at our conference next month, I can tell you now that this will be a manifesto for the next generation.

Every page is written with an eye to their future and we are putting an unapologetic focus on children and young people.

The whole point of a stronger economy and a fairer society – the liberal mission in politics – is to enable people to live their lives in the fullest way possible; it’s about creating real, meaningful opportunities in order to liberate people from their backgrounds – and that has to start when people are young.

Your best chance of breaking the link between a person’s life chances and the circumstances of their birth is in those early, formative years.

We must be prepared to do everything we can to release the potential in every boy and girl – utilising the full strength of the state – from the moment they are born, to the first day they hang up their coats at school, to the time they are young men and women striking out on their own.

The Conservative party have an entirely different starting point: they seem completely relaxed about the pecking order - the way things are.

The life you are born into is the life you lead – it’s as simple as that.

Labour can’t create an environment where all young people can realise their talents - not on the shifting sands of their weak and unstable economy.

For us, this is what governing is all about: giving every child their chance to shine.

And you cannot start early enough:

-Last month we announced our plans for a “daddy month”: a use-it-or-lose it block of paternity leave to encourage more fathers to take a hands on role with their children when they are born – something we know makes a huge difference to a child’s development;

-Last week we announced plans to give free childcare to all two year olds;

- We’ll increase our early years pupil premium to get extra investment to the children who need it most from the day they start at nursery.

- We’ll extend free school meals to all children in primary school.

- We’ve said we’ll put a qualified teacher in every classroom;

- We’ll give parents the guarantee that a core body of knowledge will be taught in every school – meaning in academies and free schools too;

- We’ll raise the bar for people who want to become teachers;

- We’ll get the best heads in the worst schools;

- We’ll create more apprenticeships and introduce proper careers advice.

These are the policies we care about.

Where money is available, this is where I want it spent.

Today I can give you another example: the Coalition has raised the participation age so that young people now need to stay in school or training until they are 18 rather than 16.

That comes with costs – travel, food, all of the normal everyday expenses – but we haven’t done enough to help young people shoulder those costs.

So here’s one big way we can: we’ll help pay for their bus travel.

The cost varies wildly depending on where you live.

A 17 year old in Somerset, for example, travelling to college to get a basic qualification could be paying around £650 a year, while in London it’s free.

It’s the same story for the teenagers living in Newcastle, Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Birmingham – so the Liberal Democrats will give ALL 16-21 years olds a Young Person’s Discount Card, covering at least two thirds of their bus fares – and I would hope that in a lot of cases the bus companies will consider topping up the discount to something even more generous.

We are NOT going to pay for it by taking away pensioner bus passes – despite what some Labour leaflets say.

Not least because these bus passes help keep the buses running, and because we know how much older people rely on public transport.

But we ARE going to pay for it, in part, by stopping the free TV licences and Winter Fuel Payments that currently go to wealthy older people – those who qualify as higher rate tax payers.

I know there are people who say you mustn’t touch so-called universal pensioner benefits because politically it’s too risky.

We don’t agree: what are effectively benefits for the rich and retired cannot be justified when there are so many young people struggling to get on their feet.

Nothing will be taken away from older people who require the support; and don’t forget we have done more than many governments before us to restore dignity in old age through our triple lock guarantee and Steve Webb’s pension reforms.

But where older people are living very comfortably having come to the end of their working lives, it is surely far better we give this support to young men and women starting out – and I’m confident grandparents up and down Britain will agree.

The next Parliament will be about choices – just as this one has been.

So we are telling you today that we are choosing to put the next generation front and centre of our plans.

I am hugely grateful to David Laws for his efforts in overseeing this process, but I am infinitely more indebted to him for the work he has done as Schools Minister to improving the fortunes of hundreds of thousands of children and teenagers.