Does Clegg talk to Steve Webb, ever? Did anyone over the age of 60 vote LibDem? Has Clegg officially lost the plot?
I refer to his comments at today's Lib Dem Conference when this chap, whose parents were hardly malingering in poverty during his comfortable upbringing, said that pensioners should start getting their incomes cut by way of surrendering universal benefits.
Well, that is well and good. Perhaps the most wealthy pensioners don't need a fuel allowance or a free TV licence. But why should these be taken from them? Every winter that comes the fuel bills get higher and higher, and with the effect of inflation eating into people's incomes, and affecting the oldest of the population the most, the fact that everyone can get a fuel dividend or a free TV licence is a pretty nice benefit.
It's one of the virtues of living in a so-called democracy, Clegg, a democracy where there is a decent, if heavily in need of repair, national health service. A democracy whereby rich and poor are treated with respect.
And when you state that it's time to cut from the most wealthy, you end up squeezing those who are on the border lines - who are just about making do, by sheer willpower and the fact they have been prescient enough to save all their lives. Now you want to penalise these for their prudence.
What's more, you will end up opening the floodgates for a whole raft of ill-informed ideas from think-tanks whose staff have all benefited from a middle-class upbringing and education, and whose parents probably live quite well in a finely appointed country home, tending their begonias, waxing their jackets and going on constitutionals with their black Labradors, who all seem to be called Ollie.
I refer to this insane release from the IEA:
"Commenting on Nick Clegg’s call for wealthy pensioners to surrender age-related universal benefits, Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:
“Nick Clegg is right to highlight the unfair nature of universal age-related benefits, but all pensioners should surrender these benefits. Means-testing would be a bureaucratic nightmare and would not make savings for the government.
"The three non-cash benefits to pensioners should be abolished. If the coalition is worried about the poor they should focus on increasing the cash means-tested benefits already in existence. The current system lacks any economic rationale.
“The government has imposed many new burdens on the younger generation, yet older people have remained largely insulated from the cuts. It is time this changed.”
This is patent nonsense. One-quarter of those who are deemed poverty-stricken in this country are pensioners. Many of these do not have family or friends on whom to rely, and their one ray of light is getting a free TV licence so they get some form of human contact.
Why shouldn't the poorest have a fuel payment in winter? Energy companies are raking it in and to suggest that this, along with other benefits, be cut, is simply condemning the poorest people to death. That's right, whoever at the IEA considers that there's no economic rationale to giving a fuel payment, even to the poorest old folk. You talk 'economics'. I talk 'ethics'. We have a responsibility to care for our elderly. Perhaps your parents are well off enough not to miss £75.
Well let me tell you, Mister, without that £75 my mum would not be able to afford the higher central heating bills at Christmas, and would end up freezing. And she's not even on the poverty line. You take that away from the nation's poorest pensioners, and you are signing a death warrant. Smart move, Mr Littlewood, smart move. I bet your pension will come in at more than £9000 a year. That's what my mother lives on. A company pension of £9000 a year and about £1800 from the government. Is that what you hope for in retirement? Is that what you long for? Is this your dream? I think not, Mr Littlewood, I think not.
The third benefit is free travel. Well, not every old person in this country has a car, can drive or is able to drive. How do you think the oldest people get to hospital, to the shops, just outside of their front doors? If your mad idea is ever taken seriously, thousands of the nation's most elderly will end up becoming prisoners in their bleak, cold, TV-less houses until they die.
Perhaps you think old people just want to malinger inside their homes, shivering beneath a WWII grey serge army blanket and looking at a giant photograph sellotaped to the front of a blank TV screen? Perhaps you forgot that the majority of the pensioners that you would push further into Dickensian poverty spent their youth working for, and fighting for, the freedoms that you in your nice, comfortable, middle-class job and higher-than-most retirement will enjoy.