Speaking at the launch of the Liberal Democrat local election campaign in Cornwall today [Monday], Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said:
In three and a half weeks, people up and down the country will elect their local councillors. Each council seat will be fought on different terms. Each neighbourhood has its own, unique needs.
But I bet you that, when all those people are deciding which name to put a cross by on 2 May, ultimately they’ll be asking themselves the same question: ‘While cuts are being made to public spending, who can I rely on to spend the money that is available on the right things?’
‘Which party can I rely on to strike the right balance: taking the difficult decisions to make savings, but doing so the fairest possible way?’ These elections are about one thing: priorities.
Difficult decisions will need to be made in local government, just as in national Government, and people understand that. But they – rightly – expect that their representatives should make the fairest possible decisions.
Next month, in wards across the country, people will be confronted with the same choice. Despite all their stated differences, a vote for Labour or the Tories will be a vote for the same thing.
Their record in local government shows that, even when millions of families are feeling the pinch, they’ll both squander taxpayers’ money on waste, inefficiency and their own vanity projects.
A vote for the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, is a vote for a party which – wherever we’re in power – does it’s best to spread the burden of austerity fairly, investing in jobs and help for hard-pressed families. Only the Liberal Democrats will build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.
Only the Liberal Democrats have the right priorities in tough times. Just take our tax changes. Today is the first working day of the new tax year. Today, because of Liberal Democrat tax reforms, more of the money you earn will go into your own pocket, and less to the taxman.
That’s because we’ve raised the point at which you start paying income tax, and now over 20 million people will pay £600 less in income tax than they did under Labour.
In households where two people are working, that’s an extra £1200 a year. £1200 to cover energy bills, or car insurance, or mortgage repayments, or to go towards a family holiday.
And next April it’ll go up again. People won’t pay a penny of income tax on the first £10,000 they earn. Millions of the lowest earners won’t pay any at all. At the same time we’ve asked for a bit more from those who can afford it. We’ve increased capital gains tax; introduced a higher rate of stamp duty and a £12.5bn banking levy; we’ve closed loopholes and capped tax relief to stop the very rich from gaming the system. And the Liberal Democrats will continue to argue for our mansion tax. The right priorities in tough times.
I know that Labour are trying desperately to gloss over these changes. They want to pretend that the only tax change this week is the reduction of the top rate, from 50p to 45p. But it’s the same old selective amnesia we always get from the two Eds about Labour's time in office.
Out of the 13 years they were in power, Labour had the 50p rate in place for just 36 days. For most of the time, Labour’s top rate was 40p. Not 45p. Not 50p. 40p – 5p less than now. And under the previous government a cleaner paid a higher rate of tax on their wages than a hedge fund manager selling their shares - a gross unfairness that we have fixed.
The sudden, synthetic fury we’re seeing from the Labour party is nothing more than an attempt to distract people from the most important change coming into effect: the tax cut for ordinary working people delivered by the Liberal Democrats.
That policy was on the front page of our manifesto, it’s been my priority from the moment we entered the Coalition, and now millions of people will feel the benefits.
In every single year of this Parliament the rich will pay a greater share of our nation's tax revenues than in any one year of the last government. The IFS have confirmed that, as a result of our changes, the wealthiest 10% of people are making the greatest contribution. So I will take no lectures from the Labour party on tax – the Liberal Democrats are making the tax system fair.
And it’s not just in Whitehall that we’re making the right choices, but in Liberal Democrat Town Halls too. Our councillors, like all councillors, have had to take some controversial decisions – I don’t deny that.
But look at our record and it’s clear that, wherever we can, Liberal Democrats are spreading the burden fairly, investing in ways that enable everyone to get on in life, not just the well off. That’s why, for example, this year the Liberal Democrats haven’t closed a single library.
Who have we done that for? For the bright teenager who comes from a chaotic home, but who wants a place to study so they can do well in their exams and go on to something better.
For the ambitious young men and women whose parents can’t afford to buy them the books and technology they need, but who want to forge a different path. And, despite money being tight, we’re investing in jobs for these young people too.
In Eastbourne and Watford, the Liberal Democrat councils are giving their town centres a boost – supporting thousands of local jobs. In Eastleigh, the Liberal Democrats are revitalising the local cricket ground so that it can host international test matches – that alone will create 500 new jobs. In Bath we’re supporting high tech start-ups so that they can grow and take on more staff. In Northumberland we're building new council houses this year, providing homes as well as giving the local construction industry a shot in the arm. The right priorities in tough times.
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.
Here in Cornwall we’ve even seen the Conservative’s waste money hiring taxis to ferry teas and coffees between council buildings – again, while trying to push through an increase in Council tax. A rise Cornish Liberal Democrats successfully stopped. When savings need to be made, you just cannot rely on the Tories to make the fairest decisions. Their instincts drag them in the wrong direction.
And what about Labour? What are their priorities? Today we’ll hear from Ed Miliband about why people should vote for his party. Here’s what he won’t say. He won’t say: Labour are sorry they crashed the economy. And he won’t present a serious and detailed plan to fix the mess they created. That much we know.
The Labour party continue to be a blank page in British politics: they won’t accept for responsibility for what went wrong; they haven’t learnt from their mistakes; they have no ideas for the future. Above all, they are incapable of delivering a stronger economy. And it’s the same from the leadership all the way down.
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. And we now have a national and local record to prove it. Our party has a strong story to tell – a story not of promises, but of action.
But people won’t hear our message unless you tell it to them. I know how hard you’re all working. I am grateful for all of the hours you put in. But I need to ask you to work even harder.
If you are fighting an election in your area – deliver more leaflets, canvass more people, make more calls. If you’re not fighting a council election – go somewhere that is, or make calls from wherever you are. Every wing of this party now needs to pull together, reminding our opponents that we have a unity, a resolve and a sense of purpose they could never compete with.
When the Liberal Democrats organise, no one campaigns like we do. Labour know it. The Tories know it. And they are going to throw everything at us – they haven’t forgotten Eastleigh. But guess what? Nor have we. And when you feel that you’ve given all you can, I want you to think back to that great victory.
I want you to remember how good it felt to confound our critics; remember how good it felt to win. It’s time to do it again, Liberal Democrats. Get out there and win.