Peter Hoskin

Clegg gets forceful over welfare

Clegg gets forceful over welfare
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Enter Nick Clegg with another self-assured article for a national newspaper. A few weeks ago, it was his defence of the coalition's Budget for the FT that caught the eye. Today, it's his case for welfare reform in the Times (£). These may be arguments, about dependency and disincentives, that you've heard before – but here they're packaged in a particularly clear and persuasive way. Just what's needed as the welfare wars, between Labour and the coalition, spill back into newsprint.  

Writing about the article, the Times frames it as "Nick Clegg [putting] himself on a collision course with his party" – and you can see why they might think that. The tone of the piece, particularly when Clegg writes that the state must not "compensate the poor for their predicament," is more forceful than the party faithful might be used to. But I'm not sure that this represents a major shift in Lib Dem thinking. The yellow brigade went into the election promising cuts in some benefits, and their position on welfare was broadly reformist. Besides, as Clegg argues, there is something "profoundly liberal" about an approach that weens people off state handouts, where it can, and helps them make better lives for themselves.

All in all, this article reminds me of one of David Cameron's finest moments as Tory party leader: his defence of Tory welfare policy at last year's party conference in Manchester. (See from 24:05 to 28:20 in the video here, or watch that section's coda below). As conference season swings round again, these arguments are ripe for another airing.