Even Clegg outshines `Sunny Jim' Brown

WITH the Ministry of Defence allegedly looking to save cash by scrapping the RAF and splitting its roles between an expanded Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and a combined army-air force, the Government's pretence that this country does not have the worst public finances of any of the leading G8 nations just does not stack up.

Graham Dines

WITH the Ministry of Defence allegedly looking to save cash by scrapping the RAF and splitting its roles between an expanded Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and a combined army-air force, the Government's pretence that this country does not have the worst public finances of any of the leading G8 nations just does not stack up.

If David Cameron and Nick Clegg can spell out the desperate years to come, then why not Gordon Brown?

The Prime Minister's pig-headed obstinacy in refusing to admit what everyone knows - that public spending will have to be slashed from 2010 onwards - has become a national embarrassment.


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It's almost as if he regards us as simpletons who are cocooned in a world of Rupert Murdoch's satellite television banality,

But unfortunately for Brown, the dire state of the nation's finances is mirrored in the spending choices of every household in the country. As wages are frozen or even cut, families have abandoned holidays abroad, decided not to visits restaurants and pubs, are not buying expensive electrical goods, and are buying cheaper value ranges at the supermarkets.

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Gordon Brown is rehashing James Callaghan's infamous quote on his return to the UK in 1979 at the height of the public sector strikes which led to rat infested garbage littering the streets and bodies being stockpiled because there was nobody to dig graves - “crisis, what crisis?”

`Sunny Jim' Callaghan and Brown have something else in common - neither of them was elected to Downing Street by the voters. They are creatures of Labour patronage.

This week, it was Nick Clegg's turn to spell out the financial mess the country is in as he jettisoned many of the Liberal Democrats' long-standing policy pledges.

They have been downgraded to aspirations since there would be no money to fund them. Among them are flagship pledges to scrap university tuition fees, provide free personal care for the elderly, and bring in a higher basic state pension.

Two rules will govern his party's policies - no spending commitments without cuts elsewhere to fund them, and no promises of tax cuts without increases in other taxes.

“In these completely different circumstances, you can't carry on promising the same menu of goodies. It is just not plausible. Everything is vulnerable,” said Clegg.

“All parties need to fight the election in a very different set of financial circumstances. We have operated in a period of largesse, when it has been very easy to appear to be generous. We now have a huge structural deficit akin to having fought a major war. If we don't sort it, we risk further economic meltdown."

Clegg accused Cameron of “economic illiteracy” by demanding cuts during the recession, and Brown of being “in denial” about the need for them afterwards.

“The choices politicians make must be based on values - not an arbitrary, axe-wielding approach to public spending or a dismal exchange between Gordon Brown and David Cameron about percentages that sounds like an argument between different book-keepers.”

At his party's annual conference in Bournemouth in September, Clegg is likely to commit the Liberal Democrats to abandoning the following key policies:

* Free university tuition for first undergraduate degrees for full and part-time students.

* Free personal care for those over 65 at cost of �2bn.

* A higher "citizen's pension" with immediate restoration of link between state pension and earnings.

* Extending the �200 a year winter fuel payment to disabled people.

* Keeping open rural post offices.

So what's the point of voting Liberal Democrat? Conference delegates may well ask.

ALL EYES TURN TO NORTH NORTH

WE'LL know at lunchtime the verdict of voters in Norwich North, who went to the polls yesterday to choose a replacement for Labour's Dr Ian Gibson, who resigned his seat as a result of revelations about his expenses claims.

There was no staying up into the early hours waiting for the result. The count will not get under way until 9am today because of “logistics.”

Broadland district council, which is in charge of the election, says that as the constituency crosses two local authority boundaries, a special system had to be put in place to deal with new regulations for postal votes which meant they could not be validated overnight.

The result should be known sometime after noon.

If other councils find it difficult to cope with the revision to postal votes, then the outcome of the next General Election may not be known until much later than usual.

Constituencies in the region which encompass two or more local authority districts include Suffolk Coastal, Suffolk Central & Ipswich North, Suffolk South, Suffolk West, Bury St Edmunds, and the new or redrawn Essex seats of Basildon South & Thurrock East, Brentford & Ongar, Harlow, Harwich & Essex North, Rayleigh & Wickford, Rochford & Southend East, Saffron Walden, and Witham.

The Witham seat presents particular problems because it includes wards from three districts - Braintree, Colchester, and Maldon.

THE HEROES COME HOME

COLCHESTER home heroes from Afghanistan last week but for Private Robert Laws of the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, the journey to the UK was in a coffin. I can think of no better secular words to sum up the sad scene at his funeral in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, on Wednesday than these written by William Arms Fisher and immortalised when played during the funeral procession for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945:

“Going home. Going home. I'm a-going home.

Quiet-like some still day, I'm just going home.

It's not far, just close by, through an open door.

Work all done, cares laid by, Going to fear no more;

Mother's there expecting me, Father's waiting, too.

Lot's of folks gathered there. All the friends I knew.

Morning star lights the way, restless dream all done.

Shadows gone, break of day, real life just begun.

There's no break, there's no end, just a-living on;

Wide awake, with a smile, going on and on.

Going home. Going home, I'm just going home.

It's not far, just close by, through an open door.”

WEEK IN POLITICS

WITH MPs embarking on their 82 days' leave from Westminster, next week I shall be looking at the European Parliament and our Euro MPs in what will be the last Week in Politics until the run-up to the party conference season in September.

On its return, the Internet version will be updated at noon to give detailed analysis of all local government by-elections in the UK and the implications of the results for the General Election, which must be held by June 3 2010 at the latest.

Follow Graham Dines on TwitterNick Cleg on-line

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