It was the turn of Nick Clegg to make a big speech today, following David Cameron and Ed Miliband yesterday – with Theresa May later this morning. (Perhaps tomorrow could be an oration-free occasion?)
The deputy prime minister diligently tried to avoid any open clashes with the prime minister over tricky issues around removing benefits from offenders and delivering tax breaks for married couples.
But it was easy to detect chinks of light between Clegg’s position and that of his Tory cohabitants. On IDS’s decision to potentially remove benefits from offenders. Clegg said:
“There is a lot of conditionality in the benefit system already. You need to be proportionate. But there is conditionality in the system. You can’t just accept a blank cheque that is built into the system already and we are going to take our time to build on that.”
My understanding is that Clegg opposes a blanket withdrawal of benefits from convicted criminals – not least because of the way that the benefits system can be a route back into work (through compulsory careers advice etc). Also, would there be perverse consequences? And would you have to apply it to all criminals and not just rioters? The Lib Dem leader is more keen to see whether the existing system can be tweaked to increase the existing “conditionality” – as he inferred today.
Meanwhile on tax issues, Clegg did not openly criticise Tories who want the coalition to speed up its proposed tax break for co-habiting couples. But he did make clear that the Lib Dem pledge to raise the threshold for personal income tax to £10,000 would have be delivered before the coalition sought to extend breaks for marriage.
“The coalition makes clear what takes precedence.”
Meanwhile Clegg struck a generally liberal note by talking about the need to prevent re-offending by getting prisoners back to work rather than in back into gangs on their release from prison – and community service for those on probation to force them to clean up their communities.