15 Apr 2015

Lib Dems: we’ll out-spend Labour and Tories on education

We are in the “Testbed1” creative space, adjoining the Doodle Bar in Battersea, south London, and the Lib Dems say it’s the perfect place for their manifesto launch. It looks like a rave venue to me, but I am no expert.  Here’s the view.


Nick Clegg began his manifesto launch with attacks on Ukip and the SNP. Decency and tolerance would be cast aside if Ukip got a share in power with the Tories. Alex Salmond, who he said was the man really in charge in the SNP, would jeopardise the UK if Labour did a deal with the SNP. Only the Lib Dems could be trusted as a coalition partner, he said.

The front page of the manifesto has five rather than the four “priorities” for government on the front cover in 2010. “Priorities” with front page billing is code for “red lines”, David Laws all but admitted on Radio 4 this morning. Nick Clegg called them the promises Lib Dems would “fight tooth and nail for in the next parliament”.

The priorities expressed as slogans – “prosperity for all” etc – are not things that a Tory or Labour leader would struggle to agree with but Labour might not be thrilled with raising the personal allowance to £12,500 as a priority and the Tories might baulk at the Lib Dems’ green laws.

The big policy focus this morning is the party’s commitment to out-spend Labour or the Tories on education for everyone under 19. Until 2017-18, the Lib Dems would protect the budget in real terms (2.8 per cent minimum) and then they would increase it in line with growth, which could mean 9.2 per cent between 2017-18 to 2019-20.

That compares with the Tories’ commitment to increase in line with pupil numbers – forecast to grow by 7 per cent over the next parliament. Labour is committed to protecting the entire Department for Education budget, so the Lib Dems in the first two years would be protecting something a bit smaller than Labour (the Lib Dems protect the two to 10 year olds budget) but would increase it by a bit more than Labour).

The Lib Dems make much of their honesty in saying where the pain comes from but one economist said there’s the usual “nonsense” about billions saved from benefit fraud crackdowns and billions more from tax avoidance – if the two main manifestos earned “one out of 10 I might just give the Lib Dems 1.5”.

There was microphone problems at one point but an aide scurried in with a replacement. I noticed David Cameron at his launch yesterday appeared to be wearing three microphones on his lapel – not much is left to chance these days.

Today the focus is still partly on policy but from tomorrow the party moves into full political mode: trying to make sure it is part of the political conversation, trying to make sure that the two main parties don’t, as the Lib Dems see it, kid people that either of them can form a majority government.

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