Peter Hoskin

Aspiring to cut spending

Aspiring to cut spending
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Remember when Ken Clarke downgraded the Tory inheritance tax plans from a "commitment" to an "aspiration," in view of the fiscal disaster they're set to inherit?  He was, of course, swiftly contradicted by the Tory leadership, which was fearful of being accused of U-turns on some of its most popular policy ideas.  But why bring this up now?  Well, because today "aspiration" has firmly entered the Party Leaders' Lexicon - it features heavily in Nick Clegg's interview with the Independent.  Here's a key passage:

"The circumstances are utterly different from anything in the last 15 years. Our shopping list of commitments will be far, far, far, far, far shorter," he said. "We will have to ask ourselves some immensely difficult questions about what we as a party can afford. A lot of cherished Lib Dem policies will have to go on the back burner. They will remain our aspirations. They will remain our policies. But we are not going to kid the British people into thinking we could deliver the full list of commitments we have put to them at the last three or four elections."

Asked if that meant watering down pledges on tuition fees, personal care and pensions, Mr Clegg replied: "Some of these might be retained as policies that we could not honestly place at the forefront of our manifesto because we could not honestly claim they could be delivered in the first few years of the next parliament." Thing is, Clegg's right here.  Given the scale of Brown's debt crisis - the imperative that the next government reduces it for the sake of both the economy and future generations - then it's unrealistic to expect parties to stick by commitments that they made in sunnier times.  So far, there has been little more than speculation about what pledges the Tories might turn into "aspirations," but you expect they'll have to discuss it at some point.  Clegg's intervention today may well make it easier for them to do so.