Clegg Distances Himself From Cameron Call for Smaller U.K. State

U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will distance himself from David Cameron’s call for permanently lower state spending, saying his Liberal Democrats aren’t ideologically wedded to budget cuts.

Cameron used a speech two days ago to argue for a “leaner, more efficient state,” as his Tories and the other main parties seek to set out distinct strategies before the 2015 election. He criticized the Labour opposition’s demands for higher expenditure “as if somehow you measure the compassion of the government by the amount of other people’s money it can spend.”

Clegg, who’s backed the Tory-led coalition’s austerity program since 2010, will tell supermarket workers in a speech in London today his “party didn’t come into government just to make cuts,” according to extracts released by his office. He’ll also attack Labour leader Ed Miliband’s campaign focus on inflation outstripping wages, saying it’s a result of Labour having “lost the bigger economic argument.”

The cost of living has become the focal point of British politics as the economic debate has shifted away from the effects of the government’s austerity program. Cameron is pinning his political hopes on the gap between wages and household costs easing before 2015 and voters taking heart from a strengthening economy. Growth accelerated to its fastest pace in more than three years in the third quarter, while inflation slowed to the lowest level in a year last month.

Voters’ Views

So far, that argument hasn’t been won, polls indicate. A ComRes Ltd. poll Oct. 18-20 of 2,018 voters found 71 percent of respondents saying they haven’t personally benefited from any economic growth in the past six months. Labour is leading in polls of voting intentions.

Clegg’s electoral pitch aims to convince voters that another coalition is desirable and viable, as his party is unlikely to ever command power on its own. A majority Tory government, he argues, wouldn’t deliver socially just policies, while a Labour-only administration would undermine austerity. Labour lost power in 2010 after 13 years.

“Don’t be fooled again: you cannot afford Labour,” Clegg will say. “Let loose in government on their own they would wreck the recovery -- costing jobs, driving up interest rates and undermining the growth needed to cut tax bills and fund public services.”

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