Huhne's coded attack on Clegg: 'We don't need a third Tory party'

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Indy Politics

Chris Huhne levelled some thinly veiled criticism at his rival Nick Clegg as he unveiled his manifesto for the Liberal Democrat leadership election.

The party's environment spokesman positioned himself to the left of Mr Clegg on equality, tax, public services and defence as he tried to woo the 64,000 party members who will choose the successor to Sir Menzies Campbell next month.

A two-horse race was confirmed when nominations closed yesterday. Although the candidates play down the differences between them, clear divisions are opening up (see panel).

The Huhne camp is portraying Mr Clegg, the party's telegenic home affairs spokesman, as "the heir to Blair" and "David Cameron's stunt double".

Mr Huhne omitted those words from the final version of his launch speech yesterday but made the same point when he declared: "We do not need a third conservative party. We need Britain's first radical party."

A former business journalist who set up his own company in the City, he presented himself as the leader who could take on Gordon Brown on the economy.

Mr Clegg has put social mobility and opportunity at the heart of his pitch but Mr Huhne argued that that did not go far enough. "You cannot give every child a chance without ending child poverty," he said. "We must champion equality not just opportunity. We must give everyone a fair start."

Mr Huhne said the Liberal Democrats should drop their policy of extending the life of the Trident nuclear missile system. It should either give it up unilaterally or maintain a minimum deterrent. "You cannot properly equip our soldiers and spend £20bn on replacing Trident," he said.

Mr Clegg hit back later with a strong attack on Mr Huhne's stance on Trident. "There's little point in attending the talks if we've already thrown all our cards away," he said. "The unilateralist proposals being put forward would throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the world safer from nuclear weapons, breach international law and lumber Britain with a new, more aggressive nuclear weapons system."

Where they stand

CHRIS HUHNE

The Economy

Main pitch will be equality. "It is not enough to speak of equality of opportunity, aspiration and level playing fields," he says. People who are on the minimum wage might be taken out of the income tax net, while inheritance tax could be increased for the already very rich.

Public services

Opposes use of market forces to extend choice such as insurance schemes in health and voucher systems in education. Argues that neither would improve quality or fairness and could threaten the principle of universal access.

Crime

Government should tackle public's fear of crime rather than fuel it with punitive rhetoric. "Our principle should be effectiveness, not vindictiveness." Big programme of restorative justice.

The Environment

He persuaded the party to adopt a "green tax switch" last year. In addition he says we should now consider further green taxes to reduce basic rate of income tax below current proposed level of 16p in the pound. More emphasis is needed on sustainable production, biodiversity, marine and countryside protection.

Trident

Would ditch party's existing policy to extend life of Trident missile system. Would either give it up unilaterally or keep only a minimum deterrent. "You cannot properly equip our soldiers and spend £20bn on replacing Trident."

Big idea

"People's veto" to give people a referendum on any proposed law if 2.5 per cent of the population object within 100 days of it being approved in parliament.

NICK CLEGG

The Economy

Wants the Liberal Democrats to become "the party of social mobility and opportunity". Would "work ceaselessly for a more meritocratic, mobile and classless society in which everyone has the opportunity to progress just as far as their talents and hard work can take them".

Public services

Open to radical reforms. "Our universal public services must be free to use and accessible to all. But beyond that, I want us to think afresh about how they should be funded and delivered."

Crime

Tough line without jettisoning freedom. "Crime and anti-social behaviour should never be no-go areas for Liberals... Under my leadership, people will be in absolutely no doubt of the Liberal Democrats' determination to defeat terrorism, to deal with violent crime and in every other regard to protect the public from harm."

The Environment

He is cautious about the creation of more green taxes. "The millions of people who, when we say 'green tax', hear only the word 'tax'." A new contract needed between individuals, business and the state. "People need to be inspired to make changes, not hectored."

Trident

Describes himself as a "multilateralist to his fingertips" and dismayed by Huhne plan. Denies that party's existing policy is a fudge, arguing that retaining part of system needed to have leverage in the talks.

Big idea

Describes his five challenges as empowering individuals, extending opportunity, balancing security and liberty, protecting the environment and engaging with the world.

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