Lib Dems Swap Poll Pledges For Austerity

(Reuters) – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT leader Nick Clegg, potentially a pivotal figure in a hung parliament, said on Monday he would keep spending pledges to a minimum in the election because the indebted country could not afford it.

Clegg refused to be drawn on whether he would support a minority administration in the event of an inconclusive election result, saying he would not sacrifice his core policies for the sake of power.

He told a Reuters Newsmaker event in London that voters had no time for “implausible promises” when Britain faced the greatest financial crisis in generations.

Opinion polls suggest the Conservatives will beat Labour in an election due by June, but may fall short of an outright majority, leaving Clegg’s party holding the balance of power.

Both the larger parties have been wooing the Lib Dems in recent weeks, emphasising areas where policies overlap.

Britain’s budget deficit is running at a record 178 billion pounds in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“Shopping lists of pledges don’t wash any more,” Clegg said, ditching earlier Lib Dem commitments on childcare and pensions.

“The politics of plenty are over. Voters will have no time for implausible promises and no interest in attempts to buy their favour with cheap trinkets.

Instead the Lib Dems would campaign on just four priorities — fairer taxation, a boost for primary school education, a programme of infrastructure investment and political reform.

“The heart of our manifesto will be short, direct and to the point. We have stripped away everything that is not essential because the country cannot afford it.”

Clegg also said Britain’s largest banks should be broken up to ensure that the riskier activities are separated from the more conventional retail operations.

Markets are concerned the election could produce a “hung parliament” with no absolute majority for either main party, or a government too weak to take the tough measures needed to cut a deficit totalling a record 12.6 percent of GDP.

Conservative leader David Cameron says his party would cut the deficit faster and further than Labour, but has yet to detail spending cuts.

The government plans to halve the deficit over four years but is reluctant to cut spending until recovery is assured.

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