Opinion: Nick Clegg’s sixth language is Tory

It’s important to find things to be cheerful about in these serious days. So I was pleased, last weekend, to be recognised publicly as an errant lefty by my good friend Stephen Lloyd, the MP for Eastbourne, in his speech to the South East Regional Conference in Whitstable.

It’s been a difficult Coalition so far for many of us, particularly the social liberals (or left-leaning liberals as I am very happy to be known).

At the time of the tuition fees debacle, a group of 104 of our 2010 general election slate got our 15 seconds of ‘media’ as we called for the leadership to stand by our collective election pledge. In typical Lib Dem style and practise an email list was formed, and judging by recent activity, we have lost some former PPCs along the way. Some say they will rejoin under different leadership.

I have been reflecting on this over the past months. I didn’t vote for Nick Clegg when the leadership was being decided. But I have made up my mind now: I don’t want him to go.

What I want is for the party to keep haranguing him (and Stephen Lloyd, obviously) from the left.

Here in Hastings, where we have some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the South East, I am aggressively clear that the Government needs to invest more in people, and in growth. Specifically, we need more capital spending for transport and green infrastructure, creating the jobs that will help maintain our regeneration efforts, and reduce our welfare bill. And we need the Coastal Communities Fund – expected to be launched in April 2012 – to be launched by a Lib Dem Minister, in a town like mine, and for it to make monies available that can help us improve our connectivity with London and Europe!

We Liberal Democrats need to continue to be, and be seen to be, the social conscience of a stable coalition. And we need visits from Lib Dem ministers the length and breadth of the country – not just where we have MPs – engaging with local people and helping our grass roots activists to explain the work we have been doing in Government.

In our leader, Nick Clegg, we have someone who is a deft speaker of many languages. But the media seem to have missed an easy joke about his latest linguistic achievement: to have learnt to speak fluent Tory, whilst remaining a solidly Centrist Liberal.

Nick needs to keep translating the political will of our party within the Coalition, so we can continue to be effective within Government: promoting our values of fairness, responsibility and co-operation.

No doubt we on the left of the party will be watching to see what happens with the Health & Social Care Bill in the Lords. Many of us who work in that particular field are concerned with the interface between health and welfare, and about the private providers who continue to get benefit and fitness to work assessments wrong for mental health and other service users. We must wait and see what happens in respect of dragging the tax threshold to a more progressive level, where those earning a full time minimum wage could be taken out of tax altogether. And we must do all we can to increase our affordable housing stock without creating a planning system that is skewed in favour of the developer.

These issues are all the more important with the economy in so parlous a state. So whilst I remain to his left, I support Nick Clegg’s daily efforts to talk the Tories back from the edge of their predictable, self-serving, barmy antics.

The country needs him to do this difficult job. And we need ‘errant lefties’ to stay and work within the party to keep him sharp.

But we do need good internal channels of communication for this tension to be a creative one. Dangerously, we really don’t seem to have that at the moment. And this, as much as any particular policy position of the Parliamentary Party, was the main target of my lefty salvo at Regional Conference.

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10 Comments

  • Please please understand that it was not a ‘collective pledge’ on Tuition Fees : it was a numberof individual PERSONAL pledges by individual election candidates who signed a promise not to vote for the increase if elected. They were and the reneged thereby dishonouring our party. We will not be allowed to forget this.

  • David Rogers 7th Nov '11 - 10:13am

    Excellent article Nick – and no sign of being “errant” that I can detect…..sorry not to have been at regional conference to hear whatever prompted this!
    If I understand you correctly, the key point underlying the headline is about needing to find a language in which Nick Clegg (and indeed all of us) can connect better with people and places. You will not be surprised either that I fully agree with the case you make for coastal communities, and in particular your reminder to readers elsewhere that the south east is not universally prosperous. Those whose experience lies further north – London, Sheffield, Scotland – sometimes wilfully ignore this.
    As to the much-misrepresented Health & Social Care Bill, I am a firm supporter of its localist intentions and the considerably enhanced roles for local government, which as Liberal Democrats we should be trumpeting. You are correct again in pointing out that more thought (and action) is needed in relation to the interface with the benefits system. And the case for reform of social care becomes more urgent by the day, not least to bring clarity and certainty to those who both in the short and long term will have to pay for a proportion of the costs.

  • I respect Nick Clegg’s abilities in political linguistics. And I dare say his fluency in Tory is far from exaggerated. However, communicating with one’s base is a prerequisite of successful politics, and nowhere more so than in this party. So the question has to be asked: is Nick getting rusty at speaking Liberal Democrat?

  • David Allen 8th Nov '11 - 6:03pm

    “Nick Clegg…(has)…learnt to speak fluent Tory, whilst remaining a solidly Centrist Liberal.”

    Sorry, but nobody outside our party’s membership still believes that for one moment.

  • LondonLiberal 9th Nov '11 - 3:38pm

    Hmm, so Nick talks Tory to Tories, LibDem to libdems…a man of many faces as well as tongues?

  • “What I want is for the party to keep haranguing him (and Stephen Lloyd, obviously) from the left.”

    There needs to be a push to change the doctrine of cabinet collective responsibility. It never made sense that ministers were obliged to lie about their own opinions in public, and it makes even less sense with a coalition government. Questions of Procedure for Ministers needs to be thoroughly re-written if for no reason than at present it does neither coalition partner any favours, but for the wider reason than it encourages the public perception that politicians are liars if senior politicians are required to be… er… liars.

    “They were and the reneged thereby dishonouring our party. We will not be allowed to forget this.”

    The new system is more progressive than both the status quo and the proposals in the Butler review. If it is a choice between doing the right thing and doing the politically astute thing, better to do the right thing. All the same a) extra-manifesto ‘pledges’ are a mistake, and a misrepresentation of political realities and b) the coalition negotiators should have forseen the political problem and demanded the right for LibDems to honour their commitment by voting ‘no’ rather than the choice it left between supporting Butler and ‘abstaining’. Some have suggested this was because certain of the negotiators had their own doubts about the party’s commitment to free education. I don’t know the truth of that, but if it is true than it represents a dereliction of duty on the part of the negotiators if they allowed their own views to take priority over the commitments the party-at-large had voted on.

  • Difficult to believe that Nick Clegg has suddenly dropped his support for the Tobin Tax, echoing George Osborne’s
    mischievous angle that “It’s pensioners who will pay this tax”. Translate please!
    http://politics.standard.co.uk/2011/11/clegg-tells-europe-to-forget-robin-hood-tax.html

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