Is Nick Clegg lying about what he’s doing to our national debt? The L-word is seldom used in politics, and in spite of their reputation most politicians try to get it right. To lie is to deliberately mislead — but it’s hard to think of any other word to describe what the Deputy Prime Minister is now doing about our national debt. He is trying to give the impression that the debt is being reduced, when in fact it is rising faster than almost any European country. Here’s what he said today:
‘We now know it’s going to take longer to clear up the mess left by Labour than we once hoped. And that’s why we’re even more determined as a coalition government to do it as fairly as possible, to spread the burden as evenly as possible so that we can wipe the slate clean for our children and our grandchildren.’
And the audio (apologies for the quality):
By what stretch of the English language is this ‘wiping the slate clean’? We at Coffee House have put a call into the Lib Dem press office to ask them. I’ll update you on the response. This matters because, according to opinion polls, just 10 per cent of the public realise that the national debt is going up. Given that 100 per cent of us will be repaying this debt which Clegg is running up like a drunken Keynesian, it’s very concerning. The public seem to have no idea about the debt being foisted on them by government. And when you listen to the language used by figures like Clegg, no wonder. It’s a puzzle, especially because I regard Clegg as unusually honest for a politician. I suspect he is just being badly advised.
UPDATE A LibDem press officer tells me he made the comment in his role as Deputy Prime Minister, so it’s a question for the Cabinet Office. An official later called up and explained that the Chambers dictionary definition involves “to start anew” which is what the government is doing with the deficit. I’m not sure how many viewers will reach for Chambers when hearing the DPM speak, but there we go. As the official said, the DPM was trying to use language that ordinary people can understand. My concern is that, if you focus grouped 20 people and told them the slate of debt was being wiped clean, how many would realise that debt was rising? It’s a very clear image, but indicates the opposite of what’s happening.
P.S. For CoffeeHousers wondering if Clegg really is doing it deliberately, he debuted his ‘wipe the slate clean’ line in May: here’s the Guardian calling him out on it. If it had been a slip of the tongue, you’d think he’d have noticed the Guardian piece and not repeated it. Yet he repeated it in October: