Friday 23 February 2018

Cameron and Clegg cling to austerity as pressure mounts

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, left, during a meeting at CNH
Tractors in Basildon, southeast England, yesterday
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, left, during a meeting at CNH Tractors in Basildon, southeast England, yesterday

Andrew Woodcock in London

There will be no let-up in the British government's programme to cut the state deficit and balance the country's books, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted last night.

Mr Cameron's vow came as he and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited a tractor factory in a desperate effort to relaunch the coalition following last week's mauling of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in local elections.

Two years after their famous Rose Garden "love-in", Mr Cameron said the coalition was "as important and necessary" as when it was formed after the inconclusive 2010 general election, while Mr Clegg said the government had a "moral duty" to deal with debt.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband called on the Government to change course, arguing that the economy had "got worse not better" as a result of their austerity agenda.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg said they were both committed to sorting out the British economy. "We can't let up on the difficult decisions we've made to cut public spending and to get the deficit and debt under control," said Mr Cameron.

"I know it's hard, I know it's difficult, but when you've got a debt problem, the one thing you mustn't do is keep adding endlessly to that debt."

Both leaders are facing intense pressure from within their parties following the cull of hundreds of Tory and Lib Dem councillors in last week's polls. Senior Tory backbenchers are demanding action on traditional priorities like an EU referendum and cutting red tape on business, while Mr Clegg has faced calls to exert more liberal influence on the coalition programme.

But both indicated that they are determined to press ahead with plans to reform the House of Lords, despite the threat of a full-scale Tory backbench revolt over what some MPs have branded a "barmy" use of parliamentary time.

Mr Cameron insisted the introduction of directly elected peers -- which is expected to feature in tomorrow's Queen's speech -- was "a perfectly sensible reform for parliament to consider", though he stressed it was not a priority for him.

Mr Clegg agreed that he cared "a lot more" about issues like apprenticeships, help for poorer schoolchildren and raising tax thresholds than about Lords reform, but saw no reason why the government could not tackle all of them.

He said he was "hugely proud" to have delivered some of the Liberal Democrats' touchstone policies through membership of the coalition.

And he added: "You always get ups and downs in politics, but I think the idea of politicians from different parties setting aside their differences and working in the national interest, at the end of the day, is something I hope most people think is a good thing to do."

The two leaders' appearance failed to still nerves on the stock exchange, where the FTSE 100 Index fell 1.8pc, wiping £26bn (€32.3bn) from the value of London's leading shares.

Mr Miliband said the government needed to provide "answers not excuses" for why its economic policies had failed to stop Britain falling into double-dip recession.

"They promised change, they promised an economy that would grow and things have got worse not better," he said.

"And they promised fairness, that we were all in it together, and things have got worse not better because they are standing up for the wrong people not the right people."

Despite Labour's successes in last week's polls, Mr Miliband said he recognised there was "a crisis in politics", with many voters believing political parties were all the same.

"I know we have a lot more to do to rebuild that trust," he said. "I want to reach out and understand why you don't trust any politicians, why you don't believe any of us can answer the questions that you are facing in your life."

Irish Independent

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