Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Lib Dems' Nick Clegg shelving party pledges

Nick Clegg: Some multi-million spending commitments will be put on hold

Nick Clegg has confirmed the recession means the Lib Dems will have to shelve some of their best-known policies in a speech on his election "priorities".

Extending free childcare, free personal care for the elderly and a "citizen's pension" would have to be "put on hold" and tuition fees ended over six years.

He said the days of "shopping lists" of spending pledges were over so his party could focus on priorities like schools.

He sidestepped questions over what he may do if there was a hung parliament.

Ahead of the speech setting out his election priorities, Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "A number of multi-billion pound policies that we have advocated in the past we can no longer afford."

Nick Robinson
All of this stems from the same thing: politicians having to rewrite their pledges in response to the fact that there is very little money around for them to spend
Nick Robinson
BBC's political editor

He said extending free childcare to all 18-month-olds was "no longer possible" and while he was still determined to see tuition fees scrapped it was no longer possible "on the timetable we had originally envisaged".

He told the BBC tuition fees would be axed over six years, "we will do it year group by year group starting first with final year students and working down over time".

In his speech he also said "free personal care for all" and a citizen's pension based on residency rather than National Insurance contributions would "no longer be firm commitments in our manifesto but would be put on hold until they become affordable again".

He said it showed his party were treating people "like grown ups" and were setting out their priorities "driven by clear sense of conviction".


He said his conviction was fairness and his party offered "credibility and hope".

"I'm putting our cards on the table. [Conservative leader] David Cameron and Gordon Brown are playing the politics of the airbrush and the focus group.

"One doesn't know what he believes, the other doesn't know what to do with the power he clings to so desperately."

Mr Clegg said his party had "gone further than any other politicians" in spelling out steps needed to reduce the budget deficit.

He accused Mr Brown of being in "utter denial" about tackling the economic crisis while Mr Cameron - who has promised an emergency budget should his party win the general election - of telling voters "I will tell you what I'm going to do about it - 50 days after I become prime minister".

Mr Clegg was asked about the possibility of a hung parliament - should Labour lose its majority and the Conservatives not do well enough to form a government alone.

City of London

But he said he could not "predict the future" and could only outline the core values his party would retain "in any situation".

Those were "a complete change in the tax system" - the Lib Dems have pledged to raise the starting rate at which people pay tax to £10,000 and more one-to-one tuition and small class sizes at primary school.

He also said he wanted a "revamped economy weaned off the fascination with the City of London" - with more emphasis on infrastructure and green technology and a "new politics" - reducing the number of MPs by 150, getting "big money" out of politics and changing the voting system.

It is not a commitment we can deliver in one parliament
Nick Clegg on tuition fees

Sources told the BBC the decision to downgrade key commitments to long term aspirations involved "difficult" conversations with senior Lib Dems and a "Herculean struggle" on Mr Clegg's part.

BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said there was an implication in Mr Clegg's speech that he felt the party had gone into the 2005 general election promising too many spending commitments.

The move away from some of the party's key commitments is expected to anger some Lib Dem activists.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown must call an election by early June, with 6 May currently the most widely predicted date.

For Labour Stephen Timms, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: "Like the Tories, the Lib Dems are starting to realise their plans don't add up at all.

"Today, they're in disarray, making U-turn after U-turn and still failing to make their plans add up.

"And while they talk about fairness, they want to go even further than the Tories on scrapping Child Trust Funds that help provide for children's futures."

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New StatesmanNick Clegg calls for breaking up Britain's big banks - 3 hrs ago
Observer What would life be like for our MPs if childcare guru Gina Ford took charge of their routine? - 3 hrs ago
The Independent Clegg throws out Lib Dem 'shopping list' - 16 hrs ago
Reuters UK LibDems put austerity before pledges - 24 hrs ago Lib Dems To Scrap Some Pledges - 26 hrs ago
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