It’s been a big week for Nick Clegg: the launch of the Government’s Mid-Term ‘Ronseal deal’ Review and his first ‘Call Clegg’ radio phone-in. His latest letter to supporters focuses on these two issues, but also makes a broader point: that coalition government is starting to become accepted, even by the media; that there’s a recognition two parties can disagree on some issues while pursuing a shared agenda on others.
This email would have been the ideal way to share more widely the party’s (excellent) booklet, ‘What have the Liberal Democrats ever done for you?’ — it’s not mentioned at all so here’s the link. For some reason I find baffling there appears still to be a deep-seated reluctance to align these emails with party campaigns or calls to action: the result is Nick on transmit mode, not receive. That’s a shame because the letters are an excellent initiative, and whether actually written by him or not, they read like Nick, are authentic.
This week the Prime Minister and I published the Coalition’s Mid-Term Review – setting out the progress the Government has made so far and our plans for the remaining two and a half years of this Coalition.
Two things really stand out in my mind. First, how much we’ve done and how much has changed in the 32 months since we took office. It’s a bit like when I go walking with my family in the Peak District near Sheffield – you’re heading up a steep climb, and thinking about every step, every loose stone or puddle on the path. And then, at a certain point, you turn around, look back, and you see how far you’ve come. You can see your car – just a metallic glint at the end of the track. And even though there’s a long climb ahead, you feel ready to face it, knowing the view is going to be even better from the top.
Of course, government isn’t much like Stanage Edge. But it was great to take the opportunity to remind myself of the achievements our party is proudest of – like boosting apprenticeships, cutting income taxes for people on low incomes and increasing investment in our school children. It really has given me new enthusiasm about the coming two years, and what we can achieve.
The second big realisation I had this week was during the press conference. To be honest, it was pretty uneventful, leavened only by a couple of rather lame politicians’ jokes about varnish (if you’re intrigued you can watch a clip here).
But in fact it was the rather predictable questions and predictable answers that made me realise that a great victory has been won: I think, finally, the media are just starting to understand how coalition works.
They understand that we can be two different political parties, with different ideas and ambitions, and still work together in a common cause for the good of the country. So they understand that even though there are many reasons for the Prime Minister and I to disagree – the Leveson Inquiry, climate change commitments, mansion tax and more – we can still start the new year with a joint plan for how we govern in the next two years.
In other countries this would not be news. They are used to coalition government. Let’s face it: this is the first peace-time coalition in Britain in more than 80 years, and it takes time to adjust to the idea of political parties compromising with one another. It’s not perfect, but then no government is. And in my view it’s a darn sight better than a majority government run by either of the two other parties.
I honestly believe that the more we can spread the word about the realities of coalition – the real benefits that come when compromise and negotiation trump ideology and extremism – the more we can rebuild people’s faith in the Liberal Democrats. To do that we’ve got to get out there and talk to people much, much more.
I’m doing my bit by starting a new weekly radio phone-in, on LBC 97.3FM. You’ll be able to listen online on Thursdays at 9am. Do encourage friends and family to tune in.
Do you know someone who would like to get Nick’s weekly email? Forward this message and they can sign up here: http://www.libdememails.co.uk/nick
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from May 2007 to Jan 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.