Nick Clegg has accused the former chancellor George Osborne of casually cutting the benefits of the poorest people in society because he believed taking the austerity axe to welfare would boost Conservative popularity.
In a candid interview looking back on his five years as deputy prime minister in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, Clegg said he found the behaviour of his senior Conservative partner “very unattractive, very cynical”.
“Welfare for Osborne was just a bottomless pit of savings, and it didn’t really matter what the human consequences were, because focus groups had shown that the voters they wanted to appeal to were very anti-welfare, and therefore there was almost no limit to those anti-welfare prejudices,” he told the Guardian.
Speaking before the publication of his anticipated political memoir, written after his party was reduced to eight seats in last year’s general election, Clegg hit out at David Cameron and his Conservative partners in government. He said the former Tory leader or the chancellor – “I honestly can’t remember whom – looked genuinely nonplussed and said: ‘I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters.’ They genuinely saw housing as a Petri dish for voters. It was unbelievable.”