Clegg shows Sheffield he’s up for the fight

Nick Clegg’s visit to Sheffield yesterday included the first in a new series of town hall meetings – this one in partnership with local newspaper the Sheffield Star:

THEY say the best form of defence is attack, which is exactly what Sheffield Hallam MP and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg decided to do by launching a new wave of meet the people sessions, here in his home city.

Mr Clegg is the first to admit he is under fire at the moment. He faces a barrage of criticism about his decision to renege on his promise not to vote for an increase in tuition fees. He has endured bitter and personal abuse from political opponents over the decision to withdraw an £80m loan to Forgemasters last year, and he is in the cauldron of an aggressive campaign over the crown jewels of his party’s manifesto – to change the voting system.

So he decided to return to Sheffield to gain a litmus paper test on how he was doing and to listen to what the people had to say.

And they did not disappoint. They held him to account on tuition fees, they grilled him on his Government’s record on job creation and they backed him on wanting to change the first past the post system.

Mr Clegg showed what he proved during the televised pre-election debates – that he is an accomplished performer. He took on the criticism and contextualised it.

It was inevitable he had to change his tune on tuition fees – because his party did not win the election.

The article concludes:

Mr Clegg may appear to be the whipping boy of the coalition Government, but last night he showed he has the appetite for a fight – an appetite he will need to win over the rest of the country if he is to deliver the bigger prize of electoral reform.

Read the full report in the Sheffield Star and watch highlights of the event, including a good show of hands for voting reform, on the Star website.

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31 Comments

  • He’ll need to do more than fight.

    He’ll need to accept that he let people down – and saying “you just don’t understand it very well” is not a viable election strategy. When you’re elected on a “No more broken promises” agenda and your very first action is to break a promise – you’ve got your work cut out.

  • Depressed Ex 22nd Feb '11 - 6:59pm

    It’s a pretty ominous sign when an MP’s decision to meet his own constituents is portrayed as an “attack” strategy, and as evidence that he has the appetite for a “fight.”

  • Foregone Conclusion 22nd Feb '11 - 8:30pm

    Good. While I don’t agree with everything the Coalition’s doing, we can’t just don the sackcloth and ashes for the next four and a half years. We’re being attacked by the Labour Party, the left wing press, the Rothermere press, the National Union of Students, three quarters of the Tory Party, the trades union movement, and extremists on the left and the right. Yes, we’ve done some things wrong (most notably tuition fees), but if we don’t toot our own horn, it’ll stay untooted.

  • I hope he got a hard time ,as he is backing this right wing government who are cutting the poor and helping the rich .He is a Tory and the sooner you get a new leader the better.
    Andrew Edinburgh

  • @ForegoneConclusion

    We’re being attacked by the Labour Party, the left wing press, the Rothermere press, the National Union of Students, three quarters of the Tory Party, the trades union movement, and extremists on the left and the right.

    And who has brought that all upon themselves?

    Step forward Nicholas.

  • “@ForegoneConclusion

    We’re being attacked by the Labour Party, the left wing press, the Rothermere press, the National Union of Students, three quarters of the Tory Party, the trades union movement, and extremists on the left and the right.

    And who has brought that all upon themselves?

    Step forward Nicholas.”

    B0ll0x.

    The Tories don’t like sharing power (but we knew that anyway). They put up with the Labour Party because there’s always a mess for them to come in and sweep up when the return back to power.

    The Labour Party don’t like us because we disturb their cosy duopoly with the Tories and show up their incompetence and illiberalism.

    So, I’d say these attacks mean this: we’re annoying the people who should be annoyed so we must be doing something right.

  • Fight to the last bullet, Colonel Clegg.

  • “Fight to the last bullet, Colonel Clegg.”

    Far better than stepping aside to let the enemy in the front door.

  • Depressed Ex 22nd Feb '11 - 11:59pm

    David Allen

    Just for a moment I thought you were referring to this.

    Corporal Clegg had a wooden leg
    he won it in the war in nineteen forty four
    Corporal Clegg had a medal too
    in orange and blue, he found it in the zoo

    Dear oh dear, oh are they really sad for me
    dear oh dear, oh will they really laugh at me
    Mrs. Clegg, you must be proud of him
    Mrs. Clegg, another drop of gin
    Corporal Clegg received his medal in a dream
    from Her Majesty the Queen, his boots were very clean

    Corporal Clegg, umbrella in the rain
    he’s never been the same but no one is to blame

    Bet this gets removed …

  • He may have been referring to that; I was referring to this:

    Brave Sir Robin ran away.
    Bravely ran away, away!
    When danger reared its ugly head,
    He bravely turned his tail and fled.
    Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
    And gallantly he chickened out.
    Bravely taking to his feet
    He beat a very brave retreat,
    Bravest of the brave, Sir Robin!
    He is packing it in and packing it up
    And sneaking away and buggering up
    And chickening out and pissing off home,
    Yes, bravely he is throwing in the sponge…

  • @Tabman
    “So, I’d say these attacks mean this: we’re annoying the people who should be annoyed so we must be doing something right.”

    Of course that is utterly correct for some of the attacks. Unfortunately, others come from those he lied to at the last election over fees, and those who feel his love in approach to the coalition is wrong. Not all students who protest are Labour supporters, many voted Lib dem he did not do anything right by betraying the promise he made to them.

    The trick is he needs to take some of the criticism on board and learn from it, something he has seemed incapable of doing to date. I still can’t escape the feeling he’d be happy with a smaller following who are happy to drift ever rightwards.

  • Fight to the last bullet, Colonel Clegg.

    Where’s the umbrella?

  • @Cuse
    Thank God this party is independent of the Rothermere press = three quarters of the Tory party.

    I agree with Tabman that we are annoying a cosy duopoly which should be annoyed and which will hopefully cease to exist after May 5th.

  • Tabman/Sean

    You’re annoying the voters more than anyone else. It’s why your support has plummeted since the election and why you shouldn’t be complacent about the elections in May. That way lies disaster.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Feb '11 - 9:28am


    It was inevitable he had to change his tune on tuition fees – because his party did not win the election.

    That does not work, because it was a promise “to vote against” rather than a promise to do something if he led the government. A promise “to vote against” is rather odd, because obviously if you lead the government you are not going to be putting through legislation that you will then vote against, whereas if you are in the opposition you are going to vote against most things the government proposes but it’s a token vote as it won’t change things. So the promise only works as an effective promise in the situation of being the junior partner in a coalition. It is in effect saying “in that situation we will have to compromise on many things, but we are singling out this issue as one where we will stand our ground”.

    So what we have here is a huge tactical mistake made before the election. I don’t myself agree with the idea that manifestos should be rigid five-year plans, they have to be statements of aims and objectives which must be fitted into the post-election situation and unforeseen events. I fully accept that as the junior partner in a coalition we are not in the position to implement our manifesto, it just shapes what we will try to achieve through negotiation. However, this was a specific promise to vote in a specific way – that is different. The tactical mistake was to have made that promise in that way, to have done it in the context of an election campaign where a major theme was that we were a new sort of honest politician who would keep our promises, and to have used that promise in particular to appeal to an important sector of the electorate. Consider why out is that banks make so much effort in freshers’ week to get new students to open accounts with them. Now see how utterly damaging that pledge was, not just immediately, but long term.

  • “It was inevitable he had to change his tune on tuition fees – because his party did not win the election.”

    That is a rubbish argument. The LDs did not win the Scottish elections in 1999 and 2003 but kept their tuition fee pledge (amongst others) in coalition, so there was nothing inevitable about it.

  • I also agree with Matthew and David – signing the pledge was an incredibly stupid thing to do and a blunder we must make every effort not to repeat. It’s not even as if the problem was completely unpredictable either, we all knew there was at least a reasonable likelihood of a hung parliament, in which both the larger parties would be in favour of increasing fees and during which (early on too) the fees review was due to be published, which would inevitably recommend a rise. Under these – entirely foreseeable – circumstances, we could’ve figured out that whatever the outcome of a hung parliament (coalition with the Conservatives, coalition with Labour, or minority government by either) we’d be in the position of having to vote for an increase or else risk provoking another general election.

    I suspect that at the time our fees policy was formulated, the Tories had such large poll leads that it was assumed there would be a Conservative majority government and we’d be an opposition party as usual and could vote against fees with impunity. But with a little more foresight we could’ve anticipated the narrowing of the polls and the likelihood of a hung parliament. And regardless of our official policy, at the time of our MPs signing the pledge surely everyone could see what a hostage to fortune it might be.

    I also agree that manifestos shouldn’t be taken as written in stone (I actually think that’s bad for democracy, allowing parties to claim a spurious ‘popular mandate’ for a whole raft of specific policies when the majority of the public probably only ever hear about one or two headline themes). But parties do need to be clear about major goals and red line issues, especially if a coalition is at all likely. Unfortunately, we gave the impression that this was one of our red line issues. I don’t think it should have been a red line issue, and in terms of what’s good for society at large I’m glad we didn’t make it one, but in terms of what’s good for the party I think we can all agree it was a car crash.

  • The problem is that for all the honourable Lib Dems above who recognise that the whole tuition fee pledge was an idiotic mistake both from a tactical and moral perspective (and for which voters round my area are itching to punish the Lib Dems for – yes, I know it might not be logical but you let them down) Clegg et al still don’t get it, are not wiling to admit it and I suspect don’t really care that any left leaning Lib Dem councillors in May stand a good chance of losing their seats.

  • I think the killer point about the pledge is that we all know Clegg did not agree with party policy regarding tuition fees. That gives flesh to the view that he never intended to keep to it if there was a coalition….

    One of the reasons I voted Lib Dem at the last election is that the party and not a narrow leadership group formed policy. Blair and Brown shows the problems of leaders ignoring their parties and left people unsure of what they were actually being asked to vote for. Clegg has followed suit. I would love to say the Lib Dems will keep my vote in national elections (locally I appreciate their work and that of some other councillors so it is more complicated). To do this the party need to ensure Clegg and a selected band do not run roughshod over policy again. As it stands, and with his total lack of remorse for his lie’s, I would not commit. I imagine I am not alone in waiting to see if there is a better approach taken to the coalition in the next few years before deciding who to vote for.

    The message Clegg needs to take on board is that core support wins nothing, if he pushes those away who believed in policies he has turned his back on, but who are not members, he will go from the most to the least succesful Lib Dem leader in one parliament.

  • David Allen 23rd Feb '11 - 2:01pm

    Yes, signing the pledge was crazy mistake number 1. As compared with “if we find ourselves in government with another party, we’ll do our best to keep fees as low as we can”, the pledge no doubt sounded more stirring, but it won’t actually have gained us any more votes. So we gave ourselves a massive hostage to fortune for no good reason.

    Having signed the pledge, breaking it was massive mistake number 2. As Mr Scot points out above, it would have been perfectly possible to keep it. No doubt call-me-Dave would have told us that if fees were our deal-breaker issue, we couldn’t have that concession and an AV referendum as well. But, looking at what the polls are telling us, we’d have been much better off that way.

    Massive mistake number 3 was that stupid provision in the coalition agreement about allowing Lib Dem MPs to abstain. How could that possibly have worked well for us? No doubt Nick and Vince envisaged brokering some sort of imperfect deal, such as a smallish fee rise or a graduate tax, which they could present as an honourable compromise, such that our MPs could reasonably be expected not to oppose it outright. Sadly, call-me-Dave doesn’t do honourable compromise. Instead, he puts on his sweet-reasonable face while quietly going hell-for-leather-for-broke. Then, facing £9000 fees, that agreement that we could abstain just looked like a little Lib Dem badge that said “We are weak-willed weeds, and you can rely on us to bluster a bit and then give up”.

    In line with mistake 3, massive mistake number 4 was to make a coalition agreement in five days and expect any of it at all to make sense. We were, of course, being love-bombed by conservative commentators telling us how mature and businesslike it was for us to succumb to bounce tactics and sign an agreement in a great rush. Had things been allowed to progress more slowly, no doubt someone would have got around to asking just why did the agreement say next to nothing about schools and the health service, and what exactly might the Tories have had in mind in those areas? And that, of course, would never have done!

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Feb '11 - 5:00pm

    Mistake number 5 was to go on and on (as they are still doing) about the “huge” influence we have in the coalition, and thus make sure we get blamed as equal partners for all the unpopular aspects of it, even if those aspects are the things we had to give away in order to get the few things we have been able to obtain in negotiation.

    It just wasn’t necessary to do this. It wasn’t necessary to make out there was some big affinity between liberalism and right-wing free market economics so extreme that even dyed-in-the-wool conservatives have objected to some of it, so that this coalition was natural and obvious and can continue for ever.

    Clegg has done what extreme right-wing commentators have always urged us to do instead of listening to the voices of sense and experience within his own party. His main argument for this seems to be that Conservative policies will work out so well in five years that a grateful electorate will flock to us in thanks for supporting them. Well, if that’s his position, he ought to have campaigned for them as a Conservative. The reality is that in the unlikely circumstances of them working out well enough for the government to have enough popularity to be re-elected in 2015, they will be identified as Conservative polices and those who support them will vote Conservative. We will be left with those seats we already have, plus those where we are second to Labour – and here are not many of those remotely winnable and those where we were second to Labour and did well are those where our voters in 2010 are most likely NOT to be feeling the benefits of Conservative policies even if they are popular elsewhere.

    So, the best case scenario for us if we stick to this coalition to the end is just about hanging on to the seats we have. The worst case is … well a lot worse than that, it’s a return to where our party was in the 1950s.

  • Depressed Ex 23rd Feb '11 - 5:08pm

    The worst case is … well a lot worse than that, it’s a return to where our party was in the 1950s.

    I’d say the worst case is:
    (1) AV is rejected in May
    (2) Clegg and his cronies go for an electoral pact with the Tories and
    (3) the party splits in two.

  • David Allen 23rd Feb '11 - 6:02pm

    Mistake number 6 will be for all of us to over-react to the result of the AV referendum. Had we kicked Clegg out for incompetence and for breaking a promise to the voters over tuition fees, the nation would have understood. If instead we kick Clegg out because his AV referendum fails to bring home the bacon and provide us a more favourable electoral system, the nation will have no sympathy. They will view us as a party whose only concern is with our own selfish interests. It follows (and I don’t find this easy to say!) that whatever happens in the AV referendum, it should not prompt us to challenge the leadership. Not now. Not yet.

    If AV loses, we should be worried. We will have gained almost nothing from the coalition, and we will be looking at derisory poll figures. In those circumstances, we shall have to demand that Clegg should press Cameron much harder. So, thanks to 38 Degrees for forcing the Tories to drop their unpopular policy on forests – but, where were we? Next time, we should be taking the lead, and forcing changes to the “everything is a free market” policies. (Of course, if Clegg can’t see the need for that….)

    If AV wins, we should also be worried. We have pledged to fight every seat in 2015 – but how, exactly, shall we go about it? Shall we engage in a friendly rivalry with the Tories, with each party recommending its voters to put a “2” against its ally, so that the blues and the orangey-blues can maintain their coalition in permanence? That, I fear, is Mr Clegg’s cunning plan for implementing AV, to be graduallly edged towards over the next few years. To defeat it, some of us might have to take a leaf out of Polly Toynbee’s book, put “pegs on our noses”, and go off and talk to Labour.

  • Depressed Ex 24th Feb '11 - 12:26am

    Certainly it would be nice to think that people have some plan to avert the prospect of everyone still being here in 4 years’ time debating the finer points of Clegg’s Mistakes Number 28 and 29.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Feb '11 - 10:20am

    AV is important to break the idea “Got to vote for X in order to avoid splitting the vote and letting in Y”, so no-one should vote against it just to spite Clegg. The Labour “vote against AV because you hate Clegg” line is particularly nonsensical. They hate Clegg because he has “propped up the Conservatives”, yes? They say he should have exerted more in negotiating, yes? So WTF support the FPTP system which is put forward with its main argument being that it distorts representation in favour of the largest party and usually gives them an absolute majority even if they don’t have a majority of votes? The logic of the “No to AV” campaign is that whichever party wins the most votes should have complete control of the government, so the logic of their argument is that Clegg should not have negotiated at all with Cameron, he should just have let Cameron and his Conservatives take complete control. The logic of the “No to AV” campaign is that you should hate Clegg because he has in a tiny way ameliorated Cameron’s extreme right-wing government, not that you should hate him because he hasn’t done enough.

    I don’t see:

    (2) Clegg and his cronies go for an electoral pact with the Tories and
    (3) the party splits in two.

    as the “worst case” at all. It will make Clegg and his cronies as irrelevant as the National Liberals were in the 1950s. I don’t know of anyone in the Liberal Democrats who would go along with an electoral pact with the Conservatives. In my case, it means since I live in a Labour-held marginal constituency with the Liberal Democrats a poor third, I would be expected to spend the next general election canvassing and leafleting for the Conservatives. The fact that media commentators seem to assume this will happen or can be made to happen by Clegg ordering it shows how out of touch they are.

    Any “split” of this sort will leave the Liberal Democrats machine mainly intact and without Clegg at its top. Hooray!!!!! If it’s done by ordinary party members saying “This government has failed, we are against it, we are throwing out Clegg because of his uselessness, we’re going back to what we used to stand for”, I predict a poll surge for us. Labour is so useless still, we might even win the next election that way.

  • patricia roche 24th Feb '11 - 11:07am

    mathew I thougt there was already a conservative pact with the liberals

  • Sneak preview of the new Coalition Joint Campaign Headqurters.

  • Nick Clegg is a millionare, public schoolboy. Maybe the electorate of sheffield will see that not only is he giving political cover for Tory cuts, he is really a Tory at heart. What politician has to go on the “attack” in his own domain. I fear for the Lib Dems. If the polls prove correct 5th May. Have you thought what would happen the party if Nick (Millionare, Public Schoolboy), defected to the tories?

  • “It was inevitable he had to change his tune on tuition fees – because his party did not win the election.”

    This is whats so strange and ridiculous about this current government, in that the Liberal Democrats are very happy to take all credits for being in government, but everytime something which is going to undermine the Lib Dems credibility we hear ‘we didnt win the election, we have no mandate to implement our manifesto’ – I voted Labour last time, and fully accept that David Cameron had the moral right to be the Prime Minister, he was the man who took the most seats and votes, – but the Lib Dems in our area have harked on about Labour losing its mandate – as well as if we vote for them they will get rid of the tuition fees – move it on to something else please, it gets tiresome.

    I’ve never known a government insist they lost the election so much – if the LDs truely mean this then they will sit on the opposition benches like the British people voted them to be.

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