Cathy Newman checks it out
“We are all going to have things we said thrown back at us,” the new PM said today, when asked if he regretted saying his favourite joke was “Nick Clegg” (video here). And you’ve got to hand it to him – he must be the first politician to pre-announce cabinet splits. He said: “If you want to spend the next five years finding Lib Dem politicians who slightly disagree with Conservative politicians about this, or a slightly nuanced policy, you can find lots.”
The new coalition government set out their joint policy statement on key issues today – but how many U-turns have they performed since leaving the campaign trail? FactCheck has been finding out.
Over the team for the analysis
Cutting the deficit
What the Lib Dems said before: The Lib Dems want to make spending cuts – but not until the economy is strong enough. Their manifesto, published just a month ago, assumed this wouldn’t be until 2011-12. Cutting sooner would “undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs,” it said. Vince Cable also dismissed the Tories’ planned £6bn of efficiency savings this year as “school boy economics” when they were announced at the end of March. “They haven’t a first clue about how these savings are going to be realised,” he said. “Unless they can say how they will realise these savings, the Tory proposals aren’t worth the paper that they are written on.”
Coalition policy: To start cutting the deficit this year, by making £6bn of “non-frontline” cuts. Cuts to the child trust fund and child tax credits for higher earners are in the pipeline too.
Scrapping the national insurance rise
What the Lib Dems said before: The Lib Dems criticised the national insurance increase planned by Labour as a “damaging tax on jobs and unfair to employees”. But they said ensuring the health of the public finances was more important, and didn’t believe the efficiency savings the Tories planned to use to reverse the national insurance rise were credible (see above).
Coalition policy: The original Tory policy was bigger – to scrap most of Labour’s increase in both employees’ and employers’ national insurance. The new alliance will just cut the employers’ part of the tax rise.
What the Lib Dems said before: Clegg challenged Cameron for “proposing a cap but you don’t know what the cap would be” in the second TV debate. “Let’s not pretend that you can put forward these ideas which have got no substance, haven’t been thought through,” he said.
Coalition policy: The Tories’ plan to cap non-EU immigration is being carried through.
What the Conservatives said before: “I agree with Gordon,” said David Cameron at the second leaders’ debate, after Brown had told Nick Clegg to “get real” about the need to replace Trident. “You cannot rustle up a nuclear deterrent at the last minute as the Liberal Democrats seem to think you can,” the Tory leader said.
Coalition policy: The government is commited to the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, but “Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives”.
What the Conservatives said before: David Cameron did indicate he was moving towards the idea of setting the length of a parliament earlier this year but the 25-page “change politics” section in the Tory manifesto made no mention of fixed-term parliaments.
Coalition policy: A Lib Dem win.The next election will take place in five years’ time, rather than at a date chosen by the prime minister. There is a get-out-early clause: parliament could be dissolved before that if 55 per cent of MPs agree.
Raising the income tax threshold
What the Conservatives said before: “I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick,” said David Cameron at the first leader’s debate. “It’s a beautiful idea, a lovely idea. We cannot afford it.”
Coalition policy: By keeping part of the NI rise and increasing capital gains tax, the Conservative-led coalition has found itself able to afford at least some of it. The tax-free personal allowance will get a “substantial” increase from next year so more of the lowest earners don’t have to pay tax on their wages. It will be increased to £10,000 in the longer term.
What the Lib Dems said before: Although not a manifesto commitment, the Lib Dems have said the Scotland office and the business department were ripe for the chop.
Coalition policy: Nick Clegg’s chief of staff Danny Alexander is to be Scotland Secretary; Vince Cable will be the Business Secretary.
What the Conservatives said before: Changing the voting system was firmly off the agenda. “We support the first-past-the-post system for Westminster elections because it gives voters the chance to kick out a government they are fed up with,” the Tory manifesto said.
Coalition policy: MPs will be instructed to vote for a referendum on moving to the alternative vote system, although this doesn’t mean the Tories have to back a yes vote when it comes to putting the choice to the public. Still, AV’s not the full proportional representation the Lib Dems called for – though they have said it’s a “small step in the right direction”.
Cathy Newman’s verdict
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are proof that it takes two to tango. In their desire to shimmy up Downing Street together, they’ve had to agree on policies they bitterly contested just a week ago. The Lib Dems have had to swallow their words on spending cuts, and immigration, and they’re probably only too happy to think again about scrapping the Scotland Office and the Business Department – now their bums are on those cabinet seats.
But the Tories have had to dance to their coalition partners’ tune on voting reform and fixed-term parliaments. That much is clear. But one thing I would like to know: if Nick Clegg used to be David Cameron’s favourite joke, what was the Liberal Democrat’s favourite gag about his new boss?