Nick Clegg is to outline on Thursday the red lines that the Liberal Democrats will demand to see in any coalition deal they negotiate with the Tories or the Labour party if a hung parliament is elected on 7 May.
In a speech in Oxford West and Abingdon – a Conservative-held seat being targeted by the Lib Dems – the deputy prime minister will reach out to moderate Tories by pledging to guarantee schools spending and to balance the budget in a fair way.
The pledges will be among five commitments that will appear on the front page of the Lib Dem manifesto for the general election that will be launched in full after parliament is dissolved at the end of next month. The party has pledged to protect the schools budget in real terms, including early years and 16-to-19 education. The Conservative party has said it will freeze education funding for school-aged children, which the Institute of Fiscal Studies said would amount to a 7% cut.
The other pledges are to:
- Raise the tax free personal allowance to £12,500 to benefit low-paid workers.
- Meet the challenge posed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, by investing an extra £8bn on the NHS in the next parliament.
- Protecting the environment by introducing five green laws.
The party stopped short of calling the five pledges red lines. But Lib Dem sources confirmed that they would form the core of the party’s demands in any coalition negotiations with Labour or the Tories. Clegg has spoken of how the Lib Dems would give a “spine” to a Labour-led government, by giving it greater fiscal credibility, and a “heart” to a Tory-led government by reining in George Osborne’s spending cuts.
A Lib Dem source said: “We are not going to speculate on coalition negotiations. But these are our top priorities. We will fight tooth and tail to secure these goals in the next parliament. Look what we did last time. We had four policies on the front page of our manifesto and we delivered them. We expect to deliver on these this time round.”
The four pledges on the front of the Lib Dem manifesto in 2010 were to deliver fair taxes, give a fair chance to every child, build a fair future by creating green jobs and creating a fair deal by cleaning up politics. The most famous Lib Dem pledge in 2010 – to “scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree” – appeared on page 39. The Lib Dems suffered an immense political blow when they agreed to abandon that commitment in late 2010 when tuition fees were trebled.
Clegg, who will launch the front page of the manifesto in a speech at a primary school in the Oxford West and Abingdon seat that was held by the Lib Dems between 1997-2010, will make clear that the party will take a cautious approach on spending. He is expected to say that “balancing the books, in full and on time” is essential to creating a fairer society. “Get that right and everything else can follow.”
“Politicians have had to make difficult choices with less money at our disposal. And there are more difficult choices to come”, Clegg will say. “That’s why priorities matter.”
The party says that of the five – which have all been announced before – education is the the top priority. In his speech, Clegg will describe the Lib Dems as “the party of education”, saying the party has prioritised education over the past five years in government.
“Nothing is more central to what we believe”, he will say. “Nothing is more important to creating a fairer society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.”
Asked whether the party is nervous about naming education as its top priority after its famous failure to deliver on a pledge to abolish university tuition fees, a party spokesperson said the Liberal Democrats had “got the best deal [they] could” and that the coalition government’s current university funding policy was working.
“The [Institute for Fiscal Studies] called it one of the most progressive changes this government has made”, he said. “There are record rates of people going to university now – record rates of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, record rates kids from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th February 2015 01.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010