Posts Tagged ‘clegg’

The coalition is on life-support

13/12/2011, 10:12:36 AM

by Rob Marchant

“Mummy, what is that man for”? This exquisite, though probably apocryphal, comment from a small child has been variously said to be about many politicians over the years, including Herbert Asquith. But Asquith’s successor a century later, Nick Clegg, may suddenly be finding that a real and painful question, as he reflects on the wreckage of last week’s European summit.

But first, what happened: Cameron vetoed a treaty amendment on European integration, leaving the remaining countries no alternative but to set up a separate group which would implement the deal outside the EU. It was technically a veto, but only technically: it stopped nothing. The sticking point was said to be the financial transaction tax (FTT), an oddly unfair idea that a group of countries with relatively small financial sectors could jointly gang up to tax the one country which has an unseasonably large one, and which would certainly have damaged British interests. In that sense he was right to veto. Since the FTT is unfeasible without Britain, it was very likely a deliberate ploy by Sarkozy, as Ben Brogan suggests, to insist on this point which he knew Cameron could not accept, thus removing the “difficult” Cameron from the scene and clearing the way for an EU which might just have a chance of agreeing what it needed to agree.

However, this does not mean a triumph for Cameron – far from it. It is, as former Downing Street chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, told John Rentoul, “the worst foreign policy disaster in my adult lifetime”. But not because of the FTT. It is a disaster because it should never have come to this. Sarkozy took this action precisely because he knew Cameron was hamstrung and would never co-operate. Rather than the EU limping around with a British club foot, Sarkozy ruthlessly opted for amputation. But Sarkozy is no fool: he must have seen the attractions of a deal, but didn’t see it as possible.


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Ed needs to answer the question Cameron can’t: why does he want to be PM

22/12/2010, 03:00:01 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The front page of the Spectator Christmas special depicts Nick Clegg crushed between David Cameron’s foot and ice. This captures the conventional wisdom. Cameron is doing well out of the deal that created his government. Clegg isn’t; and Ed Miliband isn’t in sight. The Tories hover around 40 per cent. The Lib Dems have shrunk beneath 10 per cent. Labour leads these polls, but we are told that Miliband is insufficiently visible.

While Cameron may glide over the ice on The Spectator’s cover – just as he glided away from the bullets that Clegg took on tuition fees – this ice masks ideological differences in all three parties. The strategic questions are obvious. How should Cameron consolidate his dominance, Clegg recover and Miliband become more prominent? The answers, however, reveal deeper ideological fissures.

John Kampfner urges a bolder articulation of Clegg’s liberal beliefs in the face of the existential threat to his career and party:

“He has to produce a radical narrative that differs from the Tories’ ideological opposition to the notion of government as an economic actor, while maintaining his distance from the overtly statist instincts of Labour traditionalists”.

Clegg will campaign for AV, while his Tory ministerial colleagues defend the status quo. Kampfner demands, additionally, a full and distinctive articulation of liberal principles from Lib Dems in government.

The more principled Lib Dems have been thought those who stayed out of government, voted against tuition fees and who have been wooed by Miliband. Tim Farron leads this cadre from the backbenches, as Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee, leads what Tim Montgomerie calls mainstream Conservatives. Kampfner wants Clegg to prove that Lib Dem principles aren’t the exclusive preserve of the backbenches.

For Clegg to do this he needs more policy wins to justify his cohabitation with Cameron. However, these wins would threaten liberal conservatism, the counter point to mainstream conservatism. As a Cameronian minister put it to Daniel Finkelstein:

“The narrative might easily develop that anything progressive comes from the Lib Dems, and that is very dangerous to us”.

Liberal Conservatives, like Nike Boles, want Tory/Lib-Dem government to last into the next parliament. Maybe they see more to like in Clegg than Brady. However, the Conservative brand may retoxify (assuming it ever fully detoxifies) if they allow liberal conservatism to seem only capable of delivering progressive outcomes in combination with Cleggite liberalism. The Lib Dem ideological renewal that Kampfner wants is not, therefore, without risk for Cameroons. Particularly if this renewal combines with louder and more organised complaints from mainstream Conservatives about dilution of Conservative principles on tax, crime, immigration and Europe, the need for liberal Conservatives to flesh out a principled argument for continued Tory alignment with the Lib Dems may become more pressing.

Two-party government is unusual in this country. Two parties clearly setting out ideological differences in government is more unusual still. The likes of Farron and Brady may sit on the same side of the House but they are sure to make ideological arguments of quite different flavours over the next year. Kampfner illustrates the pressure Clegg is already under to demonstrate the ideological consistency of decisions taken in government. Cameronian ministers may come to face similar pressure. How will they react?

In last year’s Spectator Christmas special James Forsyth wrote:

“The most important thing Cameron should think about over Christmas is why he wants to be prime minister. As the Times — normally favourable to Mr Cameron — opined last week, he has not yet conveyed a clear sense of this to the public”.

The failure of the Conservatives to win an outright majority shows that Cameron never managed this. Abandonment of Conservative principles is unconvincingly blamed for this by mainstream Conservatives. Cameron displayed agility in forming a government having failed to secure a Conservative majority. But it remains bizarrely unclear why he wants to be prime minister. It may be out of belief in the same things as Brady. It may be out of belief in the same things as Clegg. Or does Cameron stand for a liberal Conservatism that is distinct from both Brady’s mainstream Conservatism and Clegg’s liberalism?

He seems likely to believe whatever is necessary for him to remain PM for as long as possible. Undoubtedly, there is scope for Miliband – leader of the most ideologically united of the three parties – to make mischief. He should build bridges with disenfranchised Lib Dems. And encourage the disgruntlement of mainstream Conservatives.

But, first, this Christmas, Miliband should answer the question that Cameron didn’t answer last Christmas: Why does he want to be prime minister? He doesn’t want to be prime minister to make unhappy Lib Dems feel better. He doesn’t want to be prime minister to resurrect policies rejected by voters in May.

He wants to be prime minister to prove that Labour’s best instincts are in tune with the best instincts of the British people. That when the native genius of these people combines with the liberating force of Labour government, great things happen. Finding a way of successfully communicating this, and embedding Labour’s authenticity, is a more important strategic challenge than the tactical games of pulling at the ties that bind the Tories and Lib Dems together. This is, fundamentally, about ideology.

Jonathan Todd is Uncut’s economic columnist.

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Monday News Review

20/09/2010, 07:00:23 AM

Lammy at Lib Dem conference

So to David Lammy. The Labour MP acknowledges that some think his party is too aggressive towards the Lib Dems and is getting more tribal. I would certainly put myself in the pluralist quarter of the Labour party but it may be shrinking to 10%. I don’t think any one political party has all the ideas. We need to get used to ministers being able to publicly disagree within government.” He gets applause for this. – Guardian blogs.

Ashcroft’s departure

“Going into the election, many voters had little clear idea of what we stood for or what we intended to do in government. At a national level, too much of our message was focused on unnecessary and counterproductive attacks on Gordon Brown and Labour, which meant that voters were not clear about our own plans.” – Lord Ashcroft, FT.

Lib Dems on 9/11

The Lib Dem motion notes “the widespread public concern about the human rights abuses that have taken place since 11 September 2001 under the guise of the so-called ‘war on terror’ initiated by the Bush government and backed by the Labour government in the UK. The abuses have included enforced disappearance, rendition and torture.” It also says “there has been a lack of transparency as to whether and to what extent the UK has been involved in these abuses and that such a lack of clear information is both detrimental to Britain’s reputation and damaging to public confidence in our security services”. – The Guardian.

‘Useful Idiots’

Labour’s Liam Byrne accused the Lib Dems of being the “Tories’ useful idiots”, who offer “progressive poses for a Conservative Budget that hits the poorest hardest and an economic strategy that puts honest people’s jobs at risk”.
The measures against tax evasion came amid reports that Tory backer Lord Ashcrof is to quit as the party’s deputy chairman after attacking its failure to win an outright majority at the General Election. – Mix 96.

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Friday News Review

17/09/2010, 07:00:28 AM

Miliband: 'winning support'

For the first time in thirty years, the Labour Party is electing a new leader without knowing in advance who it is likely to be. There are other parallels with 1980: Labour has recently been evicted from office, and its successors are turning out to be radical remakers of the state. – The Economist.

“I went into a briefing on a white paper for children [as chairman of the council’s children’s services scrutiny panel]. There was nothing in there for the children of the borough or anywhere else in the country. They are going to put the weakest to the wall. That was the last straw” – Barnsley councillor Lynne Brook on defecting from the Lib Dems to Labour BBC News.

With delegates heading to Liverpool for the annual conference of the Liberal Democrats, the challenge for Nick Clegg is to keep his party behind him as the government begins to flesh out what will be cut from its budget. His party is tanking in the polls and the mood among rank and file may not have been lifted by an interview he gave defending cuts to welfare. – The Guardian.

‘I’m winning support from MPs, members, unions and people outside the party, so I think all claims should be taken with a large pinch of salt. It’s my ideas for the future that have put me in the lead in this contest. I have been a candidate standing for what I am for in the future and not what I am against in the past. – David Miliband, Metro.

Admit it, Clegg, you’re in love. You rise each morning with that ache of uncertainty in your breast. You choose that tie, that suit, those shoes with him in mind. You scurry early to the office, practising the phrase that will please him, the gesture he will notice. When you first see him in the corridor … you can’t help it. The knees go. He is adorable. – Simon Jenkins on Nick Clegg’s leadership love The Guardian.

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Economy: Sam Dale says we must stop apologising and start fighting back

14/08/2010, 11:00:51 AM

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have clearly made it their political priority to blame the recession and slow recovery on Labour.

Since the election there have been daily attacks on Labour’s economic record, with the government’s inheritance invariably described as a mess. Dave and Nick accuse Labour of economic incontinence and spending money it didn’t have. There was even the sinister suggestion – which should have caused far more offence than it did – that Labour employed a scorched earth policy before leaving office.

Peter Mandelson is portrayed as a madman throwing money around with no thought for the consequences. Dave and Nick simply can’t believe that Labour wanted to help a Sheffield firm in the recession. In their deficit-obsessed, warped minds, this is a total dereliction of duty. And, of the course, there was the ill-judged joke that Liam Byrne left for his successor, feeding the government narrative.


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Charm offensives and the future of the Liberal Democrats

11/08/2010, 05:09:44 PM

Jerry Hayes would be amazed if Tories and Liberal Democrats didn’t stand as coalition candidates at the next general election. Would this extend to the formation of a new centre party encompassing elements of both Toryism and Liberalism? Peter Bingle thinks so.

Whether it is something as loose as Tory/Lib Dem understandings in certain seats or as formal as a new centre party, Denis MacShane is convinced that the government’s mishandling of Sheffield Forgemasters means that something will have to give for Nick Clegg to retain his Sheffield Hallam constituency.

Clegg’s desires to remain both on the green benches and in the ministerial Jaguar drive the electoral relationship between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories inexorably closer. Chris Huhne seems as in need of a Tory helping hand as Clegg and Sayeeda Waarsi did nothing today to suggest that this would not be extended.

Neither this prospect nor the realities of the coalition please all Liberal Democrats, though. Lembit Opik’s stand-up comedy, for example, is spiced with anti-Clegg jibes. “I saw him in Portcullis House after the election. It was strange that he didn’t see me, but it was a large lift”.

Opik may well be saying publicly the kinds of things which the Liberal Democrat backbench part of the coalition is saying privately. And this, as Tim Montgomerie observes, is a coalition in three parts: “1) the almost indistinguishable front benches; 2) the Tory right; 3) the left of the Liberal Democrats who, in their hearts, would still have preferred a deal with Labour.”

It is hard to imagine closer electoral relations between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats not producing fireworks unless this changes. Whatever closer electoral relations Cameron and Clegg are aiming for, they will struggle to achieve them unless they can bind their backbenches into the coalition to a greater degree. But the irreconcilables will, by definition, elude the charms of their party leaders. Labour should now be charming those Liberal Democrats who potentially fall into this category.

Simon Hughes is the leading figure in this group and is joined by the likes of John Pugh, Jenny Willott, Tim Farron, Paul Burstow, Norman Baker and David Heath. Whatever happens, gently encouraging Liberal Democrats of this vintage to think ill of Clegg and Cameron and well of Labour is likely to assist Labour’s hopes of returning to government. Perhaps, Labour-Lib Dem bonding over beers at Opik’s next gig would be a logical step.

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Friday News Review

23/07/2010, 08:30:10 AM

 Leadership Contest

“I am an economic realist. The public finances need addressing. Labour’s plans would halve the budget deficit and remove the bulk of the structural deficit in four years. It is the sensible, credible middle-ground between extreme cuts and unchecked spending. But the government’s proposals, designed without an escape hatch in the event of slowing growth, reflect ideology, not realism” – David Miliband, Financial Times.

 Ed, the younger of the two Miliband brothers, has been heavily supported with Coral bookmakers in the last two days to be the next Labour Leader, and has been slashed in price to 13-8 (from 9-4). David is still the odds-on favourite at 1-2. – Live Odds and Scores.

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