No 10 hits back at Clegg
Downing Street has hit out at Nick Clegg after he proposed ending universal benefits for pensioners.
In a speech marking his fifth anniversary as Lib Dem leader this morning, Mr Clegg said he wanted to “look again” at the hand-outs, such as the winter fuel payment and free bus passes, given to all pensioners.
But the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson ruled out the possibility of David Cameron backtracking on his pre-election pledge to protect the hand-outs, saying: “He believes in keeping his promises”.
Mr Clegg’s speech was aimed at differentiating the Liberal Democrats from their Tory partners, as the Coalition moves into what his former chief strategist described as “act two”.
The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised that the Liberal Democrats were “rooted in the centre ground”. He also defended the Government’s reductions to the welfare budget, while claiming his party has curbed Tory plans for "draconian” cuts.
He announced that his party would be developing a series of policy proposals, including "making clear that money should not be paid to those who do not need it – looking again at universal benefits paid to the wealthiest pensioners".
The Lib Dem leader also attacked "the siren voices of the Tory right who... could have pulled a majority Conservative government in the direction of draconian welfare cuts".
Mr Clegg highlighted his party's role in warding off such cuts: "When the political hothouse of the conference season was over and our two parties sat down to agree a plan, the Coalition stuck to the centre ground."
In a question and answer session after the speech, he said it was be expected that coalition "evolves over time" and that he and David Cameron were now at a stage where "we can be a little bit more relaxed and open about the fact that it is a process... by which decisions are reached through deliberation".
Writing for the Guardian today, Mr Clegg's former director of strategy Richard Reeves says the Lib Dems will seek to "step away" from the Conservatives, as the Coalition enters a new phase.
“The Coalition will be a play in two acts. Act one had the parties acting largely in tandem – reforming public services, reversing Labour's encroachments on civil liberties and, above all, gripping the public finances. In act two, the Liberal Democrats step away from the Conservatives. Still partners, but an arm's length apart.”