Liberal Democrat critics say Nick Clegg was 'outgunned' in negotiations on George Osborne's Autumn Statement
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 06 December 2012
Nick Clegg has been hit by a Liberal Democrat grassroots backlash for approving below-inflation rises in most state benefits without winning a “wealth tax” from the Conservatives in return.
Liberal Democrat activists claimed their party leader had been outgunned in negotiations on George Osborne’s mini-budget. They said the next £10bn round of spending cuts to which the Liberal Democrats have signed up should abolish winter fuel allowances, bus passes and free television licences for wealthy pensioners.
Mr Clegg is prepared to argue for better-off pensioners to lose such benefits in a government-wide spending review next year. The cuts would not take effect until the 2015-16 financial year, which starts just before the May 2015 election. But David Cameron is unlikely to target pensioners, fearing that would be seen as a breach of his 2010 election pledge to maintain their benefits.
The Liberal Democrats are likely to propose taking away the benefits in their manifesto for the 2015 election.
Clegg allies rejected the criticism from party members, saying he had pared down the Tories’ demands for £10bn of welfare cuts in the autumn statement to £3.7bn and blocked their plans for a freeze in most benefits, an end to housing benefit for under-25s and for state handouts for children to be limited to the first two in a family.
But some Liberal Democrat peers may oppose the legislation to keep the benefit rises below inflation for the next three years. David Hall-Matthews, chairman of the Social Liberal Forum, said the Tory elements of the Autumn Statement had “overwhelmed the Lib-Dem bits”.
He said it was “very disappointing” that the Liberal Democrats had lost the argument for a wealth tax but still agreed to curb benefits to the working poor. Although he blamed the Tories more than Liberal Democrat leaders, he said the result of the negotiations was “not great”.
The Liberal Reform group welcomed some measures in the statement but said: “We would much rather have seen the welfare bill reduced by stopping the numerous unnecessary payments made to those on high incomes.”
- 3 Alton Towers crash: Four seriously injured and 16 guests trapped as Smiler ride carriages collide
- 4 Ann Summers survey reveals the UK's favourite sex position
Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
Caitlyn Jenner's mother Ester thought her daughter, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, had transitioned for money
Charles Kennedy 1959-2015: A gifted, compassionate politician whose career was cut short by the 'demon drink' - latest news
Alton Towers crash: Four seriously injured and 16 guests trapped as Smiler ride carriages collide
Charles Kennedy dead: A guy once asked the Lib Dem leader who his favourite Muppet was and his letter response was wonderful
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...
£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...
£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...