LibLink: Stephen Tall: What Clegg was really up to last week

In his regular Conservative Home column, Liberal Democrat Voice co-editor Stephen Tall looked at the rationale behind two things that Nick Clegg had done last week, the debate challenge to Farage and his comments on Steve Richards’ programme which were interpreted as showing willing for a coalition with Labour.

So what does Stephen think it’s all about. Firstly, about getting the best deal in 2015 if there’s another hung Parliament:

In part, he’s preparing the ground for what may be. In part, he’s reaching out to those 2010 Lib Dem voters who’ve peeled off to Labour. And in part, he’s laying down a marker for any post-2015 negotiations – it is, after all, a crucial part of the brinkmanship needed to secure a good deal for his party and its supporters that Clegg can convince both the Tories and Labour that he’s prepared to form a coalition with the other.

 And accusations in the right wing press that Clegg is lurching to the left could not be further than the truth:
It’s an odd accusation given Clegg’s strategy for 2015 could not have been more explicit nor more unwavering. His unabashed aim is to occupy the centre ground of British politics, conveniently vacated by Labour and the Conservatives as they pursue the ideological purity demanded by their activists. ‘A stronger economy, a fairer society’ – that’s the party’s slogan for the next election, deliberately pitched to persuade those who worry about the Tories’ tendency to overlook the downtrodden and Labour’s tendency to overlook how we can afford to help the downtrodden.

It’s a message intended to appeal to persuadable Conservatives just as much as it’s intended to appeal to persuadable Labour supporters just as much as it’s intended to appeal to persuadable voters who are currently undecided. In fact, Clegg’s talking to exactly the same audience a Conservative Party which genuinely wanted to win a majority in 2015 would also be trying to target: open-minded voters who want a government committed both to a well-managed economy and to social justice. But David Cameron has been forced by his party to turn away from them.

And, as for the Farage debate:

Which brings us to Farage and that debate. Clegg has little to lose by challenging the UKIP leader to a face-off on Europe. The two parties are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, appeal to very different sets of voters. To Clegg, Farage is a useful enemy, a clear and present danger who may yet galvanise the one-third of voters who want the UK to remain within the EU to consider casting their vote for the Lib Dems on 22nd May – a new kind of protest vote.

As importantly for the long-term, UKIP’s current popularity underscores that the two-party system is dead. There were some, both in the Labour and Conservative parties, who hoped that one term of coalition would detonate the Lib Dem threat, and that British politics would soon revert to its cosy red-and-blue duopoly. In reality, the Lib Dem loss of the plague-on-all-your-houses vote opened up a space which UKIP has deftly exploited.

You can read the whole article here. 

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  • “Clegg has little to lose by challenging the UKIP leader to a face-off on Europe. The two parties are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, appeal to very different sets of voters.”

    Of course, it’s not that simple. A YouGov poll in December 2013 showed that 23% of current Lib Dem supporters (and 33% of those who supported the Lib Dems in 2010) would vote to leave the EU. But given that support for the EU is so much higher than current support for the Lib Dems, in principle I think there is more to gain than there is to lose from emphasising the party’s support for the EU.

    But that’s very different from saying Clegg has little to lose by challenging Farage to a public debate. If he performs badly in the debate he has quite a lot to lose. If he performs very badly the damage could conceivably be fatal.

  • peter tyzack 26th Feb '14 - 10:42am

    Clegg is being very shrewd, and deserves our confidence and support. We are the only true party of the ‘centre’ ground, and we need to set our sights straight ahead. We need to keep straight on, avoiding the distractions of the two old parties, who in reality are becoming less and less relevant to today’s world. Our future lies in making the centre ground ours, onto which we invite others to support what we are doing..

  • Chris Manners 26th Feb '14 - 12:19pm

    Clegg has no department. What else does he have to do but play around in the media?

  • Clegg is a skilled debater, educated in expensive public schools where they emphasise that particular skill. He will probably wipe the floor with Farage, who is not half as impressive, except as an unreasoned rabble-rouser. I think it highly unlikely Clegg will lose catastrophically, though I can see it being portrayed as a draw, or narrow win for Nigel in some sections of the press, whatever the objective truth. But their readers won’t vote Lib Dem anyway. It’s what the broadcast media says straight afterwards which mainstream floating voters will hear, and that is what matters.

  • “Clegg is a skilled debater, educated in expensive public schools where they emphasise that particular skill.”

    You don’t think Farage went to the local comprehensive, do you?

  • Peter Chegwyn 26th Feb '14 - 4:43pm

    @Peter Tyzack & GPPurnell

    “Clegg is very shrewd”… “deserves our confidence and support”… “Clegg is a skilled debater”

    Err… why then does Nick currently ‘enjoy’ a public approval rating of minus 57 and why is our party currently on 8 per cent in the polls?

    I wouldn’t be so sure that Nick will win a debate with Farage.

  • Farage, unsurprisingly, went to a public school, Dulwich College.

  • Paul Pettinger 26th Feb '14 - 5:45pm

    Four Party politics speaks to the Party returning to the centre-centre left – otherwise Labour might dominate the coming decades as the twentieth century was dominated by the Conservatives. Perhaps for many on the left of the Party that would be preferable to ongoing Con-Lib coalitions.

  • Were any of the 4 party leaders actually educated in the state sector??

  • I am still waiting for Nick Clegg to define the centre ground. He wont, of course, because it doesn’t exist except as a vague group of policy positions which stand midway between whatever the current positions are of Labour and the Tories. This means that the centre ground is built on constantly shifting sand, requiring never ending adjustments to Clegg’s policy positions and, most importantly, no requirement for a coherent political philosophy.

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Feb '14 - 1:10pm

    Yes, Ed Miliband was:

    Peter Chegwyn
    I don’t think Clegg’s standing in the polls has anything to do with his abilities as a debater, which are pretty good — they’re because of what he’s done

  • Steve Griffiths 27th Feb '14 - 1:14pm

    Phil Rimmer

    Quite right. I have quoted Shirley Williams on LDV before – and it deserves repeating – that she said, “…a centre party would be a party with no roots, no principles, no philosophy and no values.”

  • Do not trust Clegg at the nest of times!!

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