Speaking at a further education college in Maidstone as Labour launched its general election manifesto, Clegg said: “The Labour party saying they have no plans for additional borrowing is like an alcoholic who consumes a bottle of vodka every day, saying they have no plans to drink more vodka.
“It’s a dangerous addiction and the Labour party have no plan and no date by which to clear the decks, wipe the slate clean and deal with the deficit.”
Clegg’s comments were branded insensitive. Mathew Hulbert, a Liberal Democrat council candidate in Barwell tweeted that he hoped the party’s care minister Norman Lamb would berate Nick Clegg for making the “disgraceful” analogy.
Emily Robinson from Alcohol Concern, who founded the Dry January campaign, said: “Given his claim to take mental health issues seriously I find Nick Clegg’s remarks regarding alcoholics inappropriate.”
“I’m making a serious point in a forceful, if colourful, way,” said Clegg, when later asked about his comments. “You’ve had a Labour manifesto today, which is deeply mendacious, claiming to people that they’re not going to make additional borrowing when that’s exactly what they’re going to do.”
“They’re claiming they’ve discovered fiscal probity and discipline when they haven’t and I’m saying that it’s as implausible as somebody who drinks a lot who claims that, because they’re not going to drink a bit extra, somehow they’ve cracked their problem.”
He added that he had been trying to illustrate his point in as simple terms as possible.
Clegg stressed that he had not been seeking to cause wilful offence, but to illustrate that “the claims that someone who drinks a lot might make, that they are not going to drink any extra, are not dissimilar to a Labour party that wants to borrow billions and billions and billions of pounds and is now trying to claim it is not going to borrow any extra.”
He added: “Clearly I’m not intending to cast aspersions on people who are grappling with alcoholism.”
The Liberal Democrats have made mental health care a key issue in their general election campaigning, pledging more than £2bn of extra funding for mental health over the next parliament on top of what has already been announced in the coalition budget.
Nick Clegg has described parity of esteem for mental health as the “liberal mission” and the party boasts of securing more than £1bn in the coalition budget for mental health services for children and young people.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Monday 13th April 2015 19.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010