Clegg set for clash over Tory tax and cuts plan

NICK Clegg has set the Liberal Democrats on collision course with their coalition partners after attacking the Conservative’s tax and benefit plans.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg plays a game at a stall during day two of the Liberal Democrat autumn conference at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg plays a game at a stall during day two of the Liberal Democrat autumn conference at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow

The Deputy Prime Minister said taxes must rise in the next parliament in order to prevent the majority of the £25bn of future spending cuts being used to “beat on the poor”.

In a series of announcements the Lib Dem’s senior team made clear how they would ensure higher earners are targeted in a future coalition Government.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander used his conference to set out plans for a new fiscal rule too ensure the better off contribute “the biggest share of their income to help pay down the deficit.”

At the same time Business Secretary Vince Cable said Chancellor George Osborne’s plans for a two-year freeze on working-age benefits after the General Election “go far beyond” what is needed to eliminate the deficit.

And Lib Dem president Tim Farron accused the Conservatives of being “borderline immoral” and suggested the Lib Dems would work with the biggest party in the event of a hung parliament.

The Lib Dems hit out after David Cameron pegged the Conservative’s re-election hopes on a promise of income tax cuts during the next Parliament.

At the same time, the Tories revealed that a series of household benefits would be frozen or cut in order to help target another round of deficit reducing spending cuts.

Mr Clegg accused the Tories of being “economically extreme” as he set out red lines for any future coalition negotiations.

The Sheffield Hallam MP said changes to tax relief for the wealthiest pensioners and extending council tax bands to the most expensive properties were among the tax reforms proposed by the Lib Dems that would help fill the deficit black hole.

He added: “What we are saying is that those choices, either sticking your head in the sand or beating up on the poor, are not the choices the British people want. They want balance. They want balance between a strong economy and a fairer society and that is what we are offering.”

Asked why the Lib Dems remained in government with a party they despised, he replied: “We have restrained the Conservatives from doing what they want on penalising the poor.”

Pressed on whether Mr Clegg would stop the Tories reforming the cap on welfare claims in a future government, Mr Clegg said he would look at any proposals.

“I’m very happy to look at things like that but I do not believe that ratcheting down the welfare cap is the answer. It’s certainly not something we are advocating.”

Mr Clegg also set out plans to strengthen the northern economy, saying the Lib Dems would back infrastructure moves across the three northern regions.

Improvements include a new 125mph trans-Pennine rail route – connecting Greater Manchester to the eastern leg of HS2 between Leeds and Sheffield.