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Fleet Street mauls Nick Clegg as David Cameron and Ken Clarke put the case against a hung parliament

A week is a long time in politics, as the old saying goes.

And this time last week we were anticipating the first ever TV debate between party leaders in a British general election, with many on the Right nervous that giving Nick Clegg equal billing with Gordon Brown and David Cameron would give a boost to the Liberal Democrats.

Those fears were proved correct, and in spades, with no-one predicting that within 48 hours of the debate that the Lib Dems would have hit 30% in the polls and even be in the lead in several surveys.

The media, having been collectively a little bored by the campaign until that point, got hugely excited and proceeded to spend several days building up Clegg further and it seemed that the man and his party could do no wrong.

But on the morning of the second leaders' debate (on Sky News and Radio 4 at 8pm tonight) it would appear that Fleet Street is now moving to burst the Clegg bubble and bring him back down to earth, not only by putting Lib Dem policy under serious scrutiny for the first time, but also by delving into Clegg's personal record:

  • Picture 2 As we noted last night, the Daily Telegraph today exposes irregularities in how Nick Clegg received political donations into his private bank account;
  • The Express splashes on the "madness" of Lib Dem immigration policy;
  • The Sun goes for a triple whammy (right), also accusing him of U-turning on policy towards Afghanistan;
  • The Daily Mail unearths ill-judged comments Clegg has made referring to British "delusions of grandeur" over defeating Nazism in World War Two;
  • Metro splashes on Lib Dem plans to imposes taxes of up to £14,000 on buying a new home.

In an interview with The Times today, David Cameron stays away from attacking Clegg, preferring to outline four arguments against a hung parliament and putative deal between Labour and the Lib Dems:

The economic argument: “A hung Parliament is instability, uncertainty, potentially higher interest rates, potentially Britain losing its credit rating. People understand those arguments... If you have a situation where you have a hung Parliament and you have a lack of decisive action I think it raises those risks [of a Sterling crisis].”

The political argument: “It’s great for politicians. They can endlessly haggle and bicker and scheme and swap jobs and win pet projects and get funding for this thing or that thing and have a wonderful time. They would be in the trough. But it’s miserable for people because you could see mortgage rates go up and business rates go up and business won’t be getting moving and you won’t have a clear strategy in Afghanistan.”

The "Vote Clegg, Get Brown" argument: "No other party [except the Conservatives] can give that guarantee [of not propping up Gordon Brown as Prime Minister]... Because he [Mr Clegg] won’t answer that question, people don’t know what they are getting.”

The historic argument: "The last time there was a Lib-Lab pact it wasn’t exactly a glorious episode in our nation’s history.”

Ken Clarke pointing Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke, meanwhile, uses an article in the FT to lament that "we are in danger of treating this election as if it is just some TV celebrity talent contest".

He reiterates the economic arguments against a hung parliament:  

"A hung parliament, a minority government, held together by backroom deals with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Lib Dems and Ulstermen would be a tragedy. The uncertainty would kill the recovery... It would leave us in the same hole of financial incompetence and institutional loathing that we are in today, with seedy deals between political fixers digging us deeper in by the day."

"I find the idea that the British produce an inconclusive result particularly worrying, because I don’t think the bond markets will wait for the discussions and the horse-trading. Sterling will wobble. If the British do not vote in a government with a working majority, and the markets conclude we cannot tackle the debt and deficit, then the International Monetary Fund will have to do it for us."

And he makes a concerted attack on Nick Clegg's "very, very weak" economic policy:

"He wants to save £4.5bn by clamping down on tax evasion – what does he think HM Revenue and Customs are doing? He claims billions can be saved by a £400 cap on public sector pay rises. But this would save nothing relative to existing plans – it could even cost money. He pledges to avoid prison sentences of less than six months, and save another £1bn, yet he has not factored in the cost of the extra community sentences that would be required. The Lib Dem budget is flaky throughout, unrealistic to the tune of nearly £12bn. These policies hardly add up to a credible plan that will rescue our economy from the brink."

Jonathan Isaby


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