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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Taking Nick Clegg seriously

Considering that he works for a paper that has entered a prolonged period of mea culpa for its perceived sin of urging readers to vote Liberal Democrat at the last General Election, I thought the Guardian's Julian Glover had a fairly useful and insightful column this morning.

Writing about the launch of the Government's social mobility strategy, Mr, Glover said:

This week has seen the launch of policies that define the Lib Dem contribution to coalition government.

Before the last election, the Conservative party, wanting an easy life, backed a lot of social democratic thinking which – if it had thought before doing so – it would have rejected. In particular, David Cameron announced he supported Labour plans and Labour measures on child poverty, which Gordon Brown turned into law as if they were the only definition of a better society.

They aren't – and the social mobility strategy announced on Tuesday is a misunderstood attempt to explain why. Philosophically, it is a liberal plan: one that does not measure progress in terms of government spending, compensating for social failure without ending it, but which seeks to open up opportunity and allow people to succeed or fail on their own efforts.

He concludes: Important and original things are under way. Raising the income tax threshold is a liberal idea: that people who earn money should keep it, rather than pay it to the state in order for some of it to be returned to them in ways ministers think fit. So is trying to measure fairness – a wishy-washy word that the coalition likes very much – in terms of what people can make of their lives, rather than the extent to which failure is compensated for by the state.

This is broad and vague territory. But the absence of big government initiatives in Tuesday's plans could be taken not as a sign of their insignificance but their potential. Nick Clegg is right in his diagnosis of what is wrong with our society and serious in offering ideas to fix it. The problem for him is that his background embodies the failure. It's a brave man who uses his own privilege to abolish advantages for others.

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