Nick Clegg – Stand by for more cuts

Nick Clegg at the Lib Dem conference Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat conference

If you thought the cuts were bad, stand by for more bad news - £16bn of cuts to be precise.

The Treasury Chief Secretary, Danny Alexander, has just declared at the Lib Dem conference that the government will soon have to set out "specific plans for the £16bn of savings that are needed" in 2015 - after, that is, the current spending round ends.

What the Liberal Democrats have been doing this week is setting out their negotiating position with the Tories for the next spending round - their red lines if you like on "who pays".

What they wanted voters to hear is that they will veto Tory proposals for a benefit freeze and cuts of £10bn to the welfare budget. However, listen hard and you'll hear that they are not ruling out ending the link between benefit rises and inflation or other cuts in the benefit bill.

This is what Danny Alexander said: "At £220bn, welfare is one third of all public spending - and despite our painful reforms it is still rising. We will have to look at it."

His message to the Tories is that they'll only discuss this if they get agreement to higher taxes on the wealthy. Nick Clegg now clearly regrets suggesting that that's the top 10% of the population - in other words people earning over around £50,000 a year.

He may also regret hinting on BBC Radio 4's World at One that he would re-examine benefits which go to even the richest pensioners such as Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence.

No wonder he talked at the beginning of this Conference about "scars ahead".

PS: The £16bn figure is not, it turns out, entirely new since it was implied in last year's Autumn Statement when the chancellor announced that cuts would have to go on beyond the next election. However, it came as a surprise to me.