Britain faces its first “scarcity election” in 2015 in which no party will be able to protect benefits for wealthier pensioners, Nick Clegg has warned as he pledged to stand again in Sheffield Hallam despite his low poll ratings.
Speaking at a Press gallery lunch in Westminster, the Deputy Prime Minister said he would be “gobsmacked” if any “responsible” party sought to retain entitlements such as winter fuel payments and free television licences for rich pensioners after 2015.
Mr Clegg insisted he was “optimistic” about the Liberal Democrats’ chances at the next election, and dismissed speculation he might not fight his Sheffield Hallam seat again if his poll ratings do not improve.
“Of course I’ll stand in 2015,” he said. “I absolutely love being MP for Sheffield Hallam.”
Mr Clegg has already made clear he believes benefits should be withdrawn from the wealthiest pensioners as part of the ongoing austerity drive. Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to maintaining universal pensioner benefits until 2015, however.
But Mr Clegg said: “Any political party who goes into the next general election committing to not touch a single hair on the head of benefits for the most affluent pensioners in this country will be found out very quickly.
“You cannot ask people to take big cuts in housing benefit, in other benefits, and say it’s OK for Peter Stringfellow and Alan Sugar to be given a whole bunch of free benefits when they don’t need it.”
Earlier in the day Mr Clegg held the first of his new weekly half-hour phone-in shows on the London-based radio station LBC.
The Deputy Prime Minister successfully negotiated exchanges with a series of angry callers, including a student from Sheffield complaining about his broken pledge on tuition fees and a long-serving Lib Dem activist who had recently quit the party.
Mr Clegg told the Yorkshire Post it was “not an option” to do the show on Sheffield radio rather than in London, as the BBC is not allowed to give him his own show owing to its strict impartiality rules. “It’s live-streamed nationally [over the internet], and I don’t regard it just as a London thing,” he said.