Clegg’s triple whammy: intervenes on secret trials, slams those who ‘bowed’ to Murdoch, calls for reform of ‘broken establishment’

If Nick Clegg has time to keep a diary of his time in government (which I doubt) I’d like to pre-order it now. The principle of collective cabinet responsibility, together with the reciprocated determination of he and David Cameron to maintain an effective working relationship, means we don’t often see the reality of the behind-the-scenes battles between the Lib Dems and Conservatives.

Those which are made public — such as Nick’s very public disagreement with the Prime Minister’s veto-that-wasn’t at December’s EU summit — are deftly agreed in advance, allowing some grown-up differentiation to emerge.

But today we see three stories, each showing the impact the Lib Dem deputy prime minister is exerting in government:

Lib Dems force Tory retreat in plan for private courts (Independent)

Plans to allow some court cases to be held in private to protect sensitive intelligence material have been watered down following a Coalition rift over the controversial measures. Inquests will be now excluded from the proposals, judges and not ministers will have the power to order secret sessions and evidence will only be taken behind closed doors when national security is deemed to be threatened. The controversial Justice and Security Bill will be published today after senior Tories and Liberal Democrats finally reached agreement at the weekend over its detail. …

Last night a senior Liberal Democrat source claimed Nick Clegg had intervened to amend the proposals because he was so unhappy with their original “wide scope”. He said: “Nick has worked incredibly hard within the Coalition to ensure these proposals achieve the right balance between liberty and security. He made clear he would not let security concerns erode the principle of open justice.”

UK politicians “bowed” before Murdoch – deputy PM (Reuters)

Britain’s political class competed to “bow and scrape” before media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday, in comments aimed at setting his Liberal Democrats apart from the country’s two other main parties. … “Almost the entire political class competed to bow and scrape in front of Rupert Murdoch. The whole thing was rotten, and it inevitably came crashing down,” Clegg said in extracts from a speech he is expected to make later on Tuesday at the opening of a summit tackling “Britain’s broken establishment”. … “We’ve got a track record over a number of years of being the awkward squad and taking on vested interests,” said a Lib Dem spokesman late on Monday. “Tomorrow is an event to reaffirm that commitment, and point out that while no one has completely clean hands, some hands are cleaner than others.”

(And of course it was Nick who helped ensure the Leveson Inquiry would dig deep, resisting Conservative attempts to make do with a lesser inquiry.)

Clegg: we must reform our broken establishment (Independent)

Britain’s establishment, including politics, the media and big business, is “broken” and must be radically reformed, Nick Clegg will claim today. … Mr Clegg will link the Parliamentary expenses scandal, the banking crash, party funding rows and the “sordid spectacle” of phone hacking. The Liberal Democrat leader, who has faced criticism in the wake of declining poll numbers and local election setbacks, is expected to say Britain “is not broken at all”. He will argue: “It is the British establishment that is broken. It is the institutions at the top that have let down the people.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the Lib Dems being in government — and Nick Clegg being in Number 10 — has helped make this Coalition Government very different to the untrammelled Conservative rule that would almost certainly have resulted if our party had chose not to sign up to the Coalition Agreement. As yet the party has received little credit — and a huge heap of debits — for helping moderate the Tories’ natural establishment tendencies to look after the vested interests of the haves. But Nick’s interventions once again show what is being achieved by Lib Dems in government which no amount of shouting from the sidelines in Opposition could ever have achieved.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Stephen – we’ll have to agree to disagree about “shouting from the sidelines”. I think we play a very good role as an advocate of the “new politics”, a role probably no longer available to us. It would be a desperate shame if reactionaries like UKIP have now stepped into the vacant shoes. I am glad that NC has made a speech of this kind, especially differentiating from Cameron’s broken Britain. However, there are severe problems around the gaps between rich and poor, and in that sense, Britain is broken, which Clegg’s social mobility meme doesn’t address. Too much talk of “aspiration”, too little real addressing of class divides. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I had real hopes that “class” as an issue would have disappeared by now, only to see it in 2012 as worse, if anything.

  • Channel 4 News last night stated clearly that Tory voters / supporters want an in / out referendum on Europe. I believe 80% wanted this. This is madness: 60% of our trade is within the EU, and it is unreasonable to suppose that withdrawing would be done in favourable terms, particularly at such a critical juncture. I suggest that the Liberal Democrat presence in the Coalition is acting as a handbrake on any moves in this direction, which would be an easy way for Cameron to shore up his base.

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