The Tories are kidding themselves and the public if they think they can plough ahead with public spending cuts without damaging health and education services, Nick Clegg has said.
In sparring that underlines the extent to which the two coalition parties are diverging as the election draws near, the deputy prime minister accused the chancellor, George Osborne, of making unfunded tax cuts.
“It is impossible to balance the books, remorselessly shrink the state, deliver unfunded tax cuts and protect the public services that people treasure – such as supporting the police the NHS, schools and colleges,” he said on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
He said the Tories were “kidding themselves or kidding the public if they think they can do that. It just does not add up.” The two coalition parties agreed that they needed to “get rid of the last bit of the so-called structural deficit in 2017 and 2018, but thereafter there are some big differences,” Clegg said.
Osborne earlier attacked the Liberal Democrats, writing in the Sunday Times: “While they sign up on deficit reduction they want more tax rises rather than spending cuts. But they should not pretend to people that the sums required can be achieved by their homes tax alone. If you want income taxes to do the heavy lifting you would also need to increase taxes such as income tax and national insurance.”
Clegg and Osborne are now publicly at odds over spending plans and whether tax rises are needed to clear the deficit. Clegg said he supported the plan set out in Wednesday’s autumn statement to get rid of the non-cyclical current deficit by 2017-18, but said spending thereafter should rise in line with GDP. The autumn statement was based on projections that total government expenditure will be flat in real terms in the two years after 2017-18.
Clegg claimed that Tories privately supported his plans to introduce a mansion tax on top of reforms to stamp duty so that wealthy homeowners paid more annually and not just at the point of a property transaction. The Lib Dems continue to argue that new higher council tax bands should be imposed on properties worth £700,000 or more.
“It is extraordinary that the Conservatives constantly tell me privately it is a good idea but continue to reject it in public,” Clegg said.
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