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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Agreeing with Nick (again)

John Rentoul has an interesting column in the Independent in which he revisits his stance on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

He writes: 'For all the overheated language from the left about inequality, the record of the Coalition was surprisingly good. New figures from the Office for National Statistics last week confirmed that income inequality was unchanged in the 2010-15 period. This is something of an achievement at a time when the Government was cutting public spending, and Clegg is justified in claiming to have tried to balance the books “in the fairest possible way”.

He is right, too, to point out that the spending cuts planned for the next four years are very different, with the burden falling on the poor rather than the rich. I agree when he praises Cameron’s “poetic rhetoric” about an “all-out assault on poverty”, but points out that “the deeply regressive steps taken by his Chancellor, means it is insecure, hollow double-speak”.

It may be that Cameron and Osborne were happy to be liberals with a social conscience in their first term of government. I thought that was mainly from conviction and from a determination to fight for votes in the centre. But I may have misjudged how leaders respond to pressures from inside and outside their parties. Cameron may be a compassionate Conservative who needed the Lib Dems to keep his own party in order.

Since I formed my view of the Lib Dems in the coalition, there have been several instances of a phenomenon that suggests Clegg performed a valuable public service. It is what I call feeding the piranhas. Ed Miliband fed the piranhas. He gave some meat to the most dangerous and destructive elements of his party, and encouraged them to think that there would be more. Once the feeding frenzy got going, the only person willing to put a whole cow in the river was Jeremy Corbyn. The piranhas have got what they wanted and all that’s left of the Labour Party is a skeleton.'

It is a compelling account of how an unfettered Tory Government is getting on with its agenda of dismantling the welfare state and destroying public services in a way they were not allowed to do when in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Not only did Nick Clegg get key Liberal Democrats policies such as the pupil premium and the green agenda enacted, he also held back the Tory right wing and forced Cameron to compromise on a whole range of policies. If Cameron had been in sole charge from 2010 it could have been so much worse.
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