Opinion: The challenge ahead for Nick Clegg

The right-wing, who have been rocking the leadership boat for David Cameron, have been dealt with. With some PR mastery, that has relaunched him. Even the threat of Boris seems to have melted away.

Cameron is now considered a “real Tory” amongst activists after Osborne provided some red-blooded Tory announcements. He has removed any questions about his leadership, for now, if he can steamroller the Lib Dems with a further £10bn of benefit cuts, the shelving of any taxes on wealth labelled as “resentful” and, their shares-for-rights resurrection of Beecroft’s proposals.

Will the Lib Dems lie down like good coalition partners and take their steamrollering? I hope not!

So the double act of Osborne and Cameron are back on the road. With Osborne firing broadsides at the Lib Dem ship and Cameron glorying in the role of Prime Minster, guiding the country back to Tory greatness during challenging times.

One thing is for sure: the coalition is under pressure after this Tory conference. The Tories have pointed a true blue laser at it.

Lib Dem activists will not take more humiliation and, in turn, another electoral beating at the county elections in 2013.

There are going to be some long weekends ahead for Clegg and company to work out our response. We need to be firing some broadsides back, with more differentiation on vision.

It is quite clever for Osborne and Cameron to use the phrase “aspiration nation”, with Cameron proclaiming he wants more people going to schools like him. This is an unrealistic Tory vision without fairness and social mobility being hard-wired into our society. The opportunity to fulfil those aspirations will pass many by who do not succeed in grammar school exams to get an education like Cameron. What about the rest of society who can’t go to grammar schools and Oxbridge? What about the disabled that have been tormented by ATOS who have botched assessments for those on disabled benefits?

Meanwhile, in the wings is Labour, with an Ed Miliband who has found his feet in the leadership stakes with his “One Nation” speech. They will be hoping the coalition continue to sail on stormy seas while taking lumps out of one and other.

After the conference season the man with most to do is Nick Clegg. It won’t be good enough to hope things get better and that the electorate thank us in 2015. We need to create some of our own distinctive positive weather. The winter months ahead are going to be interesting times.

* William Jones is the lead campaigner in Sale (Priory Ward) of the Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council, Chair of Trafford Lib Democrat Forum and Chair of Wythenshawe and Sale East Liberal Democrat Constituency Party

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19 Comments

  • Errm… I don’t get the bit about grammar schools? The Tories education strategy is about free schools now, not grammars?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 15th Oct '12 - 11:04am

    It would appear that current challenge facing Nick Clegg is whether or not to accept the party funding for seats offer. He could as an alternative withdraw all support for the Party from where that offer originated. Choices, choices Nick!

  • The coalition policy debate is directly related to the tools for managing the coalition which are available to the leaders of the two parties.

    Clegg’s armoury is far more limited, but I’d like to see him flex some muscle by discussing the possibility of whipped abstentions and laying out those areas where this will not ‘under any circumstances’ be applied.

    If Osborne insists on massive extra welfare cuts whilst rejecting any and all tax rises, I’m not sure LibDem support for this could be guaranteed, and Cameron would face downgrading the coalition to a de facto ‘confidence and supply’ situation with many more compromises from his side.

    In other words, post-Conference, Osborne now poses the biggest threat to Cameron.

  • William Jones 15th Oct '12 - 11:52am

    Thomas, they only route for getting an education like Cameron is currently to get into one of the very good grammar schools that exist up and down England and Wales. Free schools are a new concept that will only show if they have succeeded or failed in a decade or so.

  • Nigel Quinton 15th Oct '12 - 12:05pm

    Excellent article Will. This is a big week for Clegg. The Tories have bombarded us with challenges and he needs to be confident enough to respond to them all – not just one or two ‘key issues’ which is the sort of muddled thinking that will see us continue to come off second best to the Conservatives.

    And the last thing he needs to do is to appear to be preparing for ‘five more glorious years’ with Dave and Gideon.

  • The “boundaries for party funding” deal sounds like fantasy to me but quite possibly its being misreported ?
    The ten billion in cuts is just not on & I imagine the tories know that perfectly well, its just their “differentiation” in preparation for 2015.

  • Mark – I agree and wish people would stop.

    However LDV did call him Gideon in a News Hound article a few days ago:
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/osborne-employees-exchange-your-rights-for-shares-30640.html

  • @ Mark Pack
    People call him Gideon as the names that most would like to call him would be unprintable. The name implies what he is, a privileged Daddy got me the job, out of touch career politician.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Oct '12 - 3:41pm

    Here’s a letter I sent to Liberal Democrat News, after I read the post-conference edition.
    Funnily enough, they did not publish this one.

    I did not like the tone of the Leader’s speech as reported in Liberal
    Democrat News (28 September).

    The possibility of involvement in a coalition has existed since the 1974
    elections established the Liberals were not a historical relic. It was
    right that in 2010, unlike 1974, we joined a coalition rather than sitting
    back to lose out as a minority government swiftly moved to a second
    election. However, painting the 2010 coalition as a planned goal rather
    than something a slight shift of votes in a previous election could have
    given is dangerous, playing into the hands of those who falsely accuse us
    of having deliberately plotted to “put the Tories in”.

    We can be proud of our ministers’ achievements, but suggesting we have
    reached our long term goal leaves people thinking, at their most
    charitable, “is that all?”. We could achieve much more if we were not
    just the junior partner in a coalition dominated by the other party – if
    we don’t make that clear the electorate will dismiss us as lacking
    ambition. I have not spent over thirty years as an active member of our
    party just to make a few tweaks at the fringes of an essentially
    Conservative government.

    We should be saying that if people want more Liberal Democrat policies
    they should vote for us; if they dislike the extreme nature of the current
    government, proportional representation would have delivered a very
    different coalition balance. Portentous exaggeration of our influence now
    loses these vital messages.

    I was trying to be as helpful as possible and not to put it as a direct attack on the man …

  • Tony Dawson 15th Oct '12 - 5:52pm

    The peculiar thing about the name ‘George’ which The Chancellor has preferred to use in public life over his given name is the same name which the former Tory leader, Mr Smith rejected in favour of ‘Ian’.

  • Nigel Quinton 15th Oct '12 - 5:58pm

    Mark, I plead guilty to childishness! but basically it’s shorthand, and Ann sums it up well.

  • Paul Walter 15th Oct '12 - 6:26pm

    @Tony Dawson
    He adopted it at thirteen!

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Oct '12 - 1:34pm

    William Jones

    Thomas, they only route for getting an education like Cameron is currently to get into one of the very good grammar schools that exist up and down England and Wales.

    That is simply untrue. Yes, there are problem schools, and there are schools whose performance is dragged down badly by the fact that most of their pupils come from a background where there is almost no parental support for education. But what you have written here suggests you believe EVERY school in the country which is not a grammar school is like that. Do you?

  • William Jones 16th Oct '12 - 6:44pm

    Matthew,

    “That is simply untrue. Yes, there are problem schools, and there are schools whose performance is dragged down badly by the fact that most of their pupils come from a background where there is almost no parental support for education. But what you have written here suggests you believe EVERY school in the country which is not a grammar school is like that. Do you?”

    No, there are some gems that are neither public or grammar schools. But in most cases if you want a privileged education like David Cameron had that leads to an Oxbridge degree you do.

    Tories believe that the best way to get more people going to schools like Mr Cameron did is to raise standards so that outstanding schools (including grammar and public) school can draw off the cream so they become privileged. It’s not fairness and social mobility for all that as Liberal Democrats we believe in. Standards need to be raised across the board and all schools need to be successful all over the UK if we are going to a vibrant economy in the future.

  • William Jones – “Standards need to be raised across the board and all schools need to be successful all over the UK if we are going to a vibrant economy in the future.”

    Laudable. but we’ve been trying to do that for forty years and are still no nearer to achieving it. Time for something different

    We need to act quickly to save those whbeing available beo can be saved before they are ruined. And we need to loosen the self-perpetuating situation of selection only being available to those who can afford it.

  • William Jones 16th Oct '12 - 10:13pm

    Agree that we should “loosen the self-perpetuating situation of selection only being available to those who can afford it” it’s called social mobility. But that social mobility cannot just be to the best schools who supply oxbridge with students.

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