I remember hearing Nick Clegg saying that if he was being attacked from both left and right, then he felt reassured that he was doing something right. He may be feeling slightly worried now, as there have been a couple of not entirely unpleasant pieces in the New Statesman and Daily Telegraph in the last few days.
From the left, we have Rafael Behr, the political editor of the New Statesman, arguing that it’s Nick Clegg, not Nigel Farage, who has shaken up Westminster:
For Lib Dems, the distinction is between two styles of politics. There is the managerial one, laden with compromise, made necessary by coalition. Or there is the chase after protest votes and none-of-the-above outrage that they know well but had to abandon on entering government. Add a history of being pro-European, relaxed about immigration and socially liberal and Clegg starts to look like the anti-Farage – a weary denier of popular solutions. “As a country, do we want the fantasy ‘close your eyes and wish it all away’ offer from Grinning Nigel?” is how one senior Lib Dem strategist puts it. “Or do we want serious, centrist government?”
Of course as Nigel Lindsay pointed out the other day, this party of protest stuff is absolute nonsense. Parties of protest don’t effectively run councils the length of the country, introduce free personal care and fair votes for local government. But the point that it’s the Liberal Democrats are the only party with the heart and mindset to stand up to Farage and the half truth and hyperbole he and both Conservative and Labour parties propagate on issues like immigration is a valid one.
Over on the right, we have Peter Oborne, who, let’s not forget, predicted the demise of the coalition during 2013, saying that the Queen’s Speech was brilliant because of the emphasis on personal saving. Steve Webb was singled out for praise for his pensions reform.
Now Steve Webb, his pensions minister (an unassuming Liberal Democrat who has turned into one of the outstanding ministerial successes of this government) is taking an axe to the Brown system. Just as Mr Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will make it impossible to lose out financially by returning to work, so Mr Webb’s pension reforms will guarantee that those who do the right thing and save are not then hammered by the state.
There are deep flaws with both articles, but their absence of bile is unusual.
Before we get too worried, though, Quentin Letts has made his earlier attacks on Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez look like love poetry in an extraordinary article, tinged with racism in today’s Daily Mail. If you want to read it, you’ll have to find it for yourselves as I’m not linking to it. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are just some of the outrageously ill-judged comments he makes:
- referring to Miriam Gonzalez Durantez as a “castanet clacker” and slipping in a reference to “half Dutch” Clegg;
- attacking Nick’s atheism, saying he “is not a man troubled by thoughts of how he may some day be judged”. What’s that thing happening in May 2015, again?;
- having a go because he has a nice Whitehall Office and use of a country house. I hadn’t noticed Tory ministers working out of leaky portakabins in Whitehall, nor William Hague, who shares use of Chevening with Clegg, sleeping in a tent in the garden;
There’s also all manner of complete hogwash about feelings within the party. Nobody could describe the direct speech he gave to the Conference rally in March, in which he made clear his determination to change the party’s culture, as “old style chauvinism.”
If anything, though, his article demonstrates the irritation of many on the right with the way Clegg has stopped the Conservatives from implementing some of their dafter policies. My view of the Queen’s Speech the other day was that the things the Liberal Democrats were mainly responsible for helped a broad section of people such as consumers, pensioners, parents and people who use the internet, while those that the Conservatives initiated were pandering to narrow prejudice. Quentin Letts’ intemperate, blinkered and discriminatory rant shows that he knows that Clegg has developed an effective competence in office and is stopping Letts’ favourites from doing their worst.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings