Did someone make this National Nick week?

This morning, up with the larks, LDV covered Nick Clegg’s feature interview in The Independent. But we’ve been hard-pressed to keep up with the Lib Dem leader’s media appearances: Nick is also in this week’s Spectator, as well as The Economist. That, plus a forthcoming one-hour ITV special and the leaders’ debates: truly, the media are spoiling us with this surfeit of Cleggyness.

The Spectator interview has stirred up Sunder Katawala at the left-leaning Liberal Conspiracy, who speculates that Nick’s comments will “be a major talking point at the LibDem spring conference in Birmingham this weekend, where it may not meet with universal acclaim among party members.”

Well, I won’t pretend to be able to speak for party members – y’see, part of the point of being a liberal is that we’re all individuals – but I’m wholly relaxed that Nick has spoken approvingly of the significance of Margaret Thatcher’s actions in taking on the vested interests of overwheening trade union powers in the 1980s. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the Sectator interview:

Age, he claims, has taught him the point of Lady Thatcher. And, indeed, he now seems to see her as something of an inspiration. ‘I’m 43 now. I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant. I don’t want to be churlish: that was an immensely important visceral battle for how Britain is governed. And what has now happened to the British economy? It has gone belly-up because, once again, we have allowed a vested interest to run riot.’ He is talking, of course, about the banks. ‘They represent a vested interest. This is what I sometimes don’t understand about the Cameron-Osborne act. A real liberal believes in genuine competition, a genuine level playing field and he is unremittingly hostile to vested interests.’ As Thatcher was to Scargill, so Mr Clegg intends to be to the banks. ‘What I find so striking is that the spirit — dare I say it — of the battle against the dominance of one vested interest, the trade unions, is exactly the same spirit we need now.’

I can see why some Labour party members might not like Nick’s statement; but I can’t see why liberals (with small l’s and big L’s) would have a problem with it. That’s why we’re in rival parties, after all.

As for creating a fuss among the party membership, today’s Lib Dem blogs have scarcely been buzzing with discontent. If anything, I think most of us are rubbing our eyes in amazement to see the party leader attracting such a high profile even before the general election campaign kicks off.

I still think Nick is wrong not to rule out a coalition: the Lib Dem position, as I’ve stated on LDV before, should be cooperation not coalition. But credit where it’s due. Nick’s interviews suggest a confident, dynamic leader who’s campaign-ready, and eminently comfortable in his own skin. So let’s leave the last word to him, from the Economist interview transcript, in which Nick makes his ‘elevator pitch’:

Everyone’s talking about change; everyone’s talking about fairness. What we’re trying to focus people’s attention on is these very hard, concrete pledges we’re making on tax reform, on pupil premium, on reforms of banking, on a new politics, to get people to ask themselves the question we really want them to ask themselves: ‘What’s in it for me and my family?’ We think and all our research suggests – it’s amazing how much research goes into something which is, in a sense, as simple as that – that the more people asks themselves those questions, the more you get a dramatic falling away from the Conservatives and it benefits us enormously. People think, ‘Actually I don’t want the blather of change; I want something that really works for me’.

That’s it, really. It shows, I hope, a combination of two things. Firstly, that in as much as elections are about a very crude question – do you want change or not? – we are unambiguously on the side of change from the Labour status quo, but that we think we contrast ourselves very favourably with what is a rather vacuous pitch for change, one without sincerity, one without authenticity from Cameron.

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9 Comments

  • Good, solid, sound Liberal principles required. Tick

    Income tax reform benefitting the lower paid disproportionately, money to go some way to redressing the imabalance in the early years, and reform of the political system. Good on ya Cleggosauraus!

  • Geoffrey, I think this is a matter of language.

    AIUI the party’s leadership are arguning for a rebalancing of the tax take in terms of the type of taxes levies and the people on whom these taxes from.

    Strictly speaking, this may be a tax cut for a particular individual, but overall the tax take remains the same (subject to rising and falling with the economy).

    Naturally, as with this whole story, it will be spun by certain media outlets and other commentators to suit their own agendas

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 9:54am

    The nuance which Nick Clegg gives on his “admiration” for Margaret Thatcher is useful, and I did not see it in the reports elsewhere on the Spectator article. If one is going to be accused of being an extreme lefty for doing what is needed to tackle the banks, the tactic of likening it to Margaret Thatcher tackling the unions a good one. A good way of fighting in politics is to give them a right hook when they are expecting a left hook and vice versa. Use conventionally right-wing arguments to support conventionally left-wing positions and vice versa.

    Like Nick Clegg, I can say “I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant.” However, I move from this in the opposite direction to that it has been taken that Clegg was adopting (but to be fair, although it was reported as “admiration” or similar, the word actually given here is the neutral “significant”). I now regret that I was fairly indifferent to the unions’ campaign. At the time it annoyed me immensely that the lefties who surrounded me at the University of Sussex could go on and on about workers in northern industries who were in the sort of jobs where union organisation was easy, but didn’t seem to care tuppence about the southern workers around them, like my dad, who earned a lot less than the northerners, and had the much higher costs of southern housing to deal with. Now I can see the utter devastation that was wreaked on northern industrial communities, the creation of a hopeless “broken Britain” there, and the end of that social decency that comes from established and secure hard work, I wish I had been more supportive of the miners etc.

  • “We’re saying ‘purely spending cuts’ ” is a direct quote from Nick. The rest of what Sunder Katwala has copied from the Spectator website may, perhaps, be spin by the Spectator. (The Spectator missed off their close-quote, so it’s not clear whether or not Nick also actually said the follow-on stuff about a “number of reasons” etc).

    Well now, yes, it has “long been party policy not to increase the level of taxation”. But of course, since the “Big Green Tax Switch” idea was first put forward some three years ago, our economy has been turned upside down! And for a long time, while everyone else (even Gordon) was debating austerity measures, Nick made us all look ridiculous by banging on about his “big permanent tax cuts”. Finally he fell silent on this. But now, it seems from the Spectator article that once again, Nick wants to position the Lib Dems as the party most determined to tackle the deficit purely by means of spending cuts. According to the Spectator, Gord would do one-third of the job by tax rises and the other two-thirds by spending cuts, while Osborne would do 20% of the job by tax rises, but Clegg would have no tax rises at all, only his beloved “savage cuts”.

    Let’s face it, they are all lying. None of them can find anything like enough spending that could be cut without causing riots in the streets. Whatever government is elected will indubitably want to dish out all the nasty medicine in one fell swoop and get it over with. Expect to see one massive big tax rise in the emergency budget, irrespective of whether it’s Darling or Osborne. (The only scenario that doesn’t look like that is if the government doesn’t have a reliable working majority and wants to plan a second election. But that’s another story!)

    Now if Nick is still determined to be the most savage cutter on the block, how can we possibly square that with any of the cherished ambitions we have made our own? Like phasing out tuition fees? Or equipping our soldiers properly? Or doing anything at all about climate change? Or finding any real money to pay the pupil premium?

    Yes, Britain is living beyond its means, and must eventually take action to reduce its deficit. Nick appears to be suggesting that we should ring-fence as sacrosanct the nation’s budgets on air travel, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, etc – because taxes must not be cut, so that personal consumption can continue unabated. Meanwhile, our schools, hospitals, defence forces and public sector workers must shoulder the whole of the burden.

    This is not Liberal Democracy as I know it.

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