Nick Clegg is under pressure from the Liberal Democrat grassroots to set out a more distinctive economic policy which distances his party from the “Osbornomics” pursued by the Coalition.
Activists are to table a rebel amendment to a keynote economic statement to the Lib Dems’ annual conference in Glasgow next month. Mr Clegg will speak in the crunch economic debate, which will decide the party’s approach at the 2015 general election.
The Social Liberal Forum (SLF), a pressure group on the party’s left which is drafting the amendment, wants the leadership to differentiate the Lib Dems from the Conservatives rather than be a mere “echo chamber” for the Coalition’s policies.
Naomi Smith, the group’s co-chair, said today: “Nick Clegg's motion on the economy sets out Coalition policy, not Liberal Democrat policy. He seems to want the next general election to be contested between the Conservative Party with Conservative economic policy, the Labour Party with Labour economic policy and the Liberal Democrats with Coalition economic policy - it's not good enough. So the SLF is aiming to amend the motion to show the distinctive approach that Liberal Democrats bring to economic policy.”
The group is expected to propose that Lib Dem policy for the next parliament is guided by a shift away from spending cuts towards “fairer taxes”, especially on wealth and land. It is likely to call for higher “capital investment” in people, business and infrastructure and improved provision for the most vulnerable in society. The activists also want “a rebalancing of the economy away from dependence on unsustainable debt and house prices, towards robust regional economies that raise living standards through sustainable growth.”
Although the SLF is close to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, allies of Mr Clegg insist that the entire Lib Dem leadership is signed up to the motion he will urge the conference to endorse.
This calls for “a bold and imaginative economic strategy to stimulate jobs, growth and investment within a strong framework for fiscal consolidation.” It welcomes the improvement in the economy, but admits the recovery is “fragile” and calls for “radical action” to tackle that youth unemployment, which it admits “stubbornly high.”
The Lib Dem leadership parts company with the Conservatives by calling for local authorities to be allowed more freedom to borrow so the number of homes they build for rent can be dramatically increased.
A Lib Dem source said: “The economy motion is backed by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable and sets out a distinctive Liberal Democrat position on the economy. It includes measures to continue the economic recovery while increasing house building, tackling youth unemployment and boosting lending to British businesses. We are the party of fairer taxes and we will go into 2015 with radical plans to make the tax system fairer, including increasing the tax-free threshold so that no one working full-time on the minimum wage will pay income tax. The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party and we expect a robust debate at conference.”
As The Independent disclosed last month, the Glasgow conference will also debate whether the Lib Dems should support the current 45p top rate of income tax or call for a return to a 50p rate on incomes over £150,000 a year, if an independent review found this would raise more money than it would cost to implement.
The Lib Dems previously backed a 50p rate but abandoned this policy in 2006. Labour introduced such a band just before the 2010 election, after leaving the top rate at 40p for almost all of its 13 years in power.
Conservatives appoint a new business chief
David Cameron has given one of his most experienced and trusted advisers a new task of building relations between the Conservative Party and businesses, pressure groups, and charities.
The decision is a sign that the Conservative leader is determined to head off any attempt by Ed Miliband to recover the kind of support from entrepreneurs that Tony Blair was able to attract in the run up to the 1997 election.
Gabby Bertin, 35, joined Mr Cameron’s staff as his press secretary when he was elected leader in 2005, and spent seven years pushing his message, until last November, when she took maternity leave.
She will return to Downing Street with a new job title of director of external relations, which will not involve dealing with the press.
An experienced lobby journalist has been hired to fill the post of press spokesman. Graeme Wilson is the deputy political editor of The Sun and a former Daily Mail political correspondent.