The Liberal Democrat manifesto by numbers:
- 9 different formats for the manifesto (hard copy, video, on screen, iPhone app etc.)
- 6 photos of Nick Clegg
- 5 pages of index
- 4 pages of detailed costsing
- 4 steps to a fairer Britain
- 3 photos of Vince Cable
- 0 mentions of chocolate
Sarah Teather welcomes people to the launch and then Danny Alexander introduces the manifesto saying, “This manifesto is frank, is detailed and spells out all the difficult financial decisions we will have to make”.
It’s when Vince Cable steps up that the photographs really spring to life. Whilst Sarah and Danny were heard in polite silence, the background to Vince is the steady murmur of cameras clicking as he says, “We take the deficit seriously. That’s the elephant in the room … I guess I’m the elephant man.” He has a pop at both Labour and the Tories for launching their manifestos as if there wasn’t a deficit to tackle.
The manifesto identifies £15 billion of cuts, itemised in the document with £5 billion to then go on the party’s spending commitments and £10 billion to cutting the deficit.
However, “There is more to be done” to tackle the deficit. That will include public sector pension reform, a rapid defence review and savings on the vast government IT projects. If this saving can be achieved there is no need to an increase in taxation beyond the £2 billion levy on banks.
The rest of the tax changes in the manifesto balance – simplifying and making the system fairer, including most notably raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 per year. The changes will also encourage work and discourage pollution.
Then it’s over to Nick Clegg. “Every manifesto has to have an idea at its heart … I believe that every single person is extraordinary” but the tragedy is that not too many people do not get the chance to “live the life they want”. “Our manifesto will hardwire fairness into British society … [with] four steps to a fairer Britain”.
Launching the manifesto in the city, at the financial firm Bloomberg, doesn’t take the edge off Nick Clegg’s rhetoric about the failures of the financial system, the risks and gambles taken and the need to radically change the financial system.
“We can turn anger into hope, frustration into ambition,” adds Nick Clegg before adding that every line in the manifesto which involves spending money is fuly costed with the details in the manifesto. “The figures are there for everyone to see”, he says holding up the first page of costings from the manifesto. Labour and Tories are trying to “airbrush” the deficit out of the election, but the Liberal Democrat manifesto confronts the problem: “It’s wrong to promise something for nothing”. The manifesto is “hope married to credibility”.
Questions from journalists home in on the proposal to cut tax evasion by 10% (as with Danny Alexander’s interview on the Today program earlier in the day). Clegg defends the proposal, both by citing details but also by pointing out how modest a 10% saving is.
There’s also the inevitable hung Parliament question, which Clegg turns into an opportunity to repeat the four key policies from the manifesto’s cover – in a hung Parliament the party will argue for its priorities. When pressed on whether he thinks the party with the strongest mandate in a hung Parliament would be the party with the most votes or seats, Clegg says it’s “both”. In such a case there will be one party with a clear mandate and he says he won’t go into all sorts of hypothetical speculation about a photo finish. Pressed again, he says simply, “Both”.
Quick double take. Yes, it’s a journalist from the Guardian (Patrick Wintour), not a tabloid, who goes for the Lib Dems love immigrants and criminals mini-speech, er…, I mean series of questions.
Other details of note:
The party’s line on cleaning up political finance has been toughened up, with a new (lower) commitment to cap political donations at £10,000.
The party’s Freedom Bill will, “end plans to store your email and internet records without good cause” and “reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days”.
The manifesto also remembers that men are parents too, and indeed the first mention in the family section is to fathers (giving them the right to time off work for ante-natal appointments).
There is a significant commitment to libel law reform with the manifesto pledging to, “Protect free speech, investigative journalism and academic peer-reviewed publishing through reform of the English and Welsh libel laws – including by requiring corporations to show damage and prove malice or recklessness, and by providing a robust responsible journalism defence.”