Opinion: Whisper it, but the press are starting to get it

Whisper it, but it seems they might be starting to get it. It’s only taken them a year and a half.

‘They’ of course are the assorted numpties of the British press and ‘it’ is how coalition government works and just how important and influential Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are within it.

For most of the time since May 2010 a crude and simplistic caricature of our government and the Lib Dems’ role in it has taken hold – that this is really a Tory government and the Lib Dems are either naive puppets being taken for a ride by the ruthless old Tories or charlatans and closet-Conservatives who sold out their principles for a seat at the big boys’ table.

No matter how many admittedly amusing cartoons on Britain’s comment pages this leads to, this is utter guff. It was never true and it shouldn’t have taken until now for them to realise.

A cursory glace at the Coalition Agreement tells you this Government has Liberal Democrat written through it like a stick of Brighton Rock.

A closer look, which is kinda what the press are paid to do, tells you that there’s more Lib Dem policy in it than Tory.

And that’s before we even take into account more recent Liberal muscle flexing over things like the NHS, Rupert Murdoch and human rights, let alone electoral reform, immigration, Europe or the very many other subjects where the Lib Dems have demonstrated considerable influence.

But still, credit where credit’s due, the fourth estate finally appears to be figuring this out.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail’s leader column screamed that it is ‘time to remind the Lib Dems who’s boss’ and whinged that ‘the Lib Dem tail has wagged the Tory dog for long enough’.

Then yesterday the Daily Telegraph published a column by a former Tory MP about Nick Clegg’s strong influence, labelling him a ‘cool operator’, praising our coalition negotiating team and arguing that it is our leader that is increasingly getting his way behind the door of Number 10.

And it’s not just the right wing press that is starting to ring to the sound of pennies dropping, as yesterday’s New Statesman attests, stating as it does that “The best testimony to the Lib Dems’ power is the fury it routinely provokes on the Tory right”.

Something happened when we got into power last May. The supposedly wise opinion formers of the great British media lost all grip on events around them and retreated to their comfort zones by trying to understand three party politics by two party rules.

For the Tory cheerleaders in the right wing press we were to either be ignored so they could pretend this was really a Tory government or held up as confirmation of their suspicions that Cameron is really a wet softy and not the proper hardcore Tory they wanted.

For the Labour cheering left wing press, yes Guardian I’m looking at you, we were turncoats, charlatans and blasphemers.

Regardless of your politics you have to admit these are not exactly the nuanced arguments you would hope for from the chief exponents of political debate in this country.

It is not news to readers of this website that the Liberal Democrats have huge influence in the government of our country and a proud record of achievement to go with it. Unfortunately, for too long it has been for the people who actually write the news.

Still, they may be coming a little late to the party, but at least there are signs that they are starting to get it.

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24 Comments

  • Curious indeed.

    I would say that the guardian’s own investigations and revelations into Murdoch’s corrupt media empire, has had far more success in taking on News Corp than any Liberal Democrats, especially after Vince Cable’s fiasco.

    “It is not news to readers of this website that the Liberal Democrats have huge influence in the government of our country and a proud record of achievement to go with it.”

    What influence would that be then??? Yet another U-Turn on Control Orders.
    Every Core Libdem Policy which is supposedly a win for the party has been so watered down and peed on by the Tories, that it is certainly Yellow, but not for the same reasons.
    Pupil Premiums, Control Orders, Nuclear Energy, Tuition Fee’s, the list goes on and on

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Sep '11 - 10:04am

    Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome rules.KO.

    Of course Tim Montgomerie and the Tory headbanging right fume. They would fume about the ‘over-influence of the Tory left’ if there was a Tory-only government. Wouldn’t mean it was any truer.

    There are some bright Lib Dem shoots in a field of manure. Whether they grow or not depends on many things.

  • LondonLiberal 2nd Sep '11 - 10:20am

    I realyl don’t thinkt hat we shoudl be seekgin to associate ourselves so closely with the actions fo this government. i’d rather we wrote pieces about how UNlibdem it is. Because, as a member (now ex) for nearly 20 years, the thought that this government is really libdem makes me wonder what i’ve been campaigning for all these years. Seriously, what is our influence? A tax rate that can be changed back in one budget? Big deal. The Tories get to rewrite the entire welfare system. Two-way electricity metering (a ‘win’ for one of our policies in the coalition agreement) doesn’t really compare to dismantling the NHS, abolishing council housing, selling off everything to anyone etc

  • Nigel Quinton 2nd Sep '11 - 11:15am

    However much we might grasp hold of positive coverage and the inclusion of Lib Dem policy in the coalition agreement, the fact is that much of what we claim to have influenced has been watered down or amended by the Tories so as to make it almost impossible to take much pride in the outcome.

    The fact that the press is being kind to us now just reinforces my view that Cameron would like to have Clegg where he is for the full length of the parliament, as the best guarantor of a Tory majority he can hope for in 2015.

    The message does seem to have got through to the leadership that last year’s strategic direction (coalition first, party second) was a mistake, but we have had precious little apology from the leadership for the damage they have caused. And although the party is making its voice heard a little more stridently, it is still very weak.

  • Richard Morris
    “… and been replaced by a policy of promoting distinctive Lib Dem policies in government – and the press have noticed”
    Does this become counter productive eventually? Lib Dems have been going on for a very long time about coalition and how it can work with grown up behaviour. If all the public hear is LDs going on about how they disagree with something, then how they are going to force a change on their politicians at conference, what will joe public (who doesn’t normally care about politics) think? Will they think:

    a. It’s good that the minor party in Gov can hold it’s MPs to account.
    b. This is chaotic, how can we know what to expect when the minor party can’t agree to anything unless the members give them approval.

    My main impression so far is that there was a paucity of ambition in the LDs (from top to bottom) in the years prior to the election. Despite all off the talk, not many seem to have sat down and thought of what would happen in a coalition – how you could manage expectations etc. Now at times it feels like you’re thrashing about trying to work out what to do next.

  • And the Lib Dems agreed to Libya? Blood on your hands and illegal. No I do not support Gadaffi, that is the usual comeback when one criticises, very similar to those who say ‘Labour Troll’.

  • It is still far too long before the nearest election for me to say with certainty I will vote Lib Dem next time, but I do agree with the hope that a more nuanced view of current politics as it is currently being conducted does take hold, as it has felt at times to be a little too simplified for me. I still think the party will be savaged come the next GE, though I think a reversion to near total two party system from our two-and-a-half system as of now would be a shame, but there are some encouraging signs to foster hope for LD supporters.

  • David Allen 2nd Sep '11 - 1:17pm

    Richard Morris is right. The Lib Dems have changed tactics. Sadly, it didn’t happen because so many grass roots Lib Dems rose up in revolt over the disasters of Osbornomics and tuition fees. It happened because Cameron dumped on Clegg in the AV fiasco, and suddenly Nick woke up to the recognition that Daddy would not always be there to protect him.

    Still, it happened. Genuine Lib Dems like Shirley Williams suddenly found themselves being listened to. Things appeared to get better. But did they?

    As chris_sh points out, it’s all a bit disconcerting for the poor old Tories. For a year their partners meekly roll over and give them everything they want: then suddenly, they start thrashing around mouthing off about everything and making trouble. Cameron will have to reassure his members that his boot is still firmly planted on the Lib Dem neck and that nothing has really changed. It may well be true.

    The big Lib Dem “success” this summer appeared to be the change in the NHS reform plans. This has brought Lansley into line with some of his critics. It has also, more significantly perhaps, brought the Lib Dems firmly into line with the privatisation policy. The BMA argue trenchantly that the recent policy changes are a step backwards, not forwards!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/sep/01/nhs-plans-put-wealthy-first

  • David Allen

    “As chris_sh points out, it’s all a bit disconcerting for the poor old Tories”

    I was thinking more of the “normal” people who don’t really belong to a political tribe as such – aka floating voters – but I’m sure that it is disconcerting for Tories as well 😀

  • Yeah, I am (was) a real LibDem voter, and I think the “coalition” is disgusting. You got into bed with Tories because you are Tories with a thin veneer. I stated on this site just after the General Election that I would not be voting LibDem again; I was assured by one of your clan that “of course I would return in due course”. Nope. Not a chance, you have turned out to be worse than I could have imagined. Clegg; Alexander; Laws; Cable; Huhne. A collective disaster. John Cleese is illustrating what the Liberals have become “I love being down in [Tory] Bath because it feels like the England that I grew up in.” L(l)iberal Progressive? or LIbDem [Tory] Little Englander? I KNOW which.

  • Well, I needed a laugh to wake me up this morning. So well done. So the Press ‘get it now’, really? Alternatively the Lib Dems (or at least some of those remaining) just don’t get it. Look at the polls and the tarnished brand of the LibDem Parliamentary Party and so deluding yourselves. I think it is the the electorate who has ‘got it’ and quite a long time ago. Still why worry about them and believe whatever you need, screw students, the poor, the NHS etc. They are only the voters, what do they know. At least you have ministerial influence – such a long term asset. I think not.

  • @ Oranjepan – a touch patronising. I seem to recall Nick Clegg featuring in a LibDem election broadcast all about broken promises. Forgive my limited intellect as perhaps I may have misunderstood but I thought the point of that broadcast by Nick was to suggest that one shouldn’t expect to see promises broken and that the Tories and Labour were alike in that regard. I took then that he was also trying to make the point that the LibDems (the ones we were told with a fully costed budget) would be somehow different. I hoped so and that is why I voted LibDem at that time.

    You seem to suggest that everyone, with the exception of those with ‘limited’ understanding such as myslef, knew that promises would inevitably be broken. Given that some LibDem MP’s honourably stood by the student pledge whilst those with ministerial perks did not, I am not sure, following your logic what this says about those honourable MP’s (not the ministers). Do you think they too have limited understanding, or do you just think it OK to dupe people with pledges that are broken and making yourself out to be something you are not?

    As for ‘constructive opposition’ that could have been provided through alternative arrangements to the apologist coalition regime we have today. As for the spin contained in your post above – I prefer the more simplistic model…. you can fool some of the people all of the time…….. I’ll go back to reading my picture book now as it seems clear anyone who disagrees with you must a) be wrong and b) be thick. I welcome diversity of opinion – in my humble opinion politics should be all about health and rigourous debate. There is nothing intellectual about dismissing an opposing view by simply attempting to label such people. That’s not clever – just lazy.

  • Old Codger Chris 3rd Sep '11 - 4:34pm

    The Torygraph and others have been complaining almost since the last General Election that the Lib Dems have too much influence in the coalition. Actually it’s not as simple as either side suggests.

  • david thorpe 5th Sep '11 - 10:06am

    @ london libdem

    we cannto disssassociate ourselves from it, there is such a thing as cabinet collective repsaonsibility…….if we believe we have the right to be in government we must accept the responsibility off so being.

    @Matt

    of cousre theyre has had to be compromise on mahy policies, we didnt yous ee win the elction, so cant implement our agenda,
    but we have:
    stopped the toreis abolisghing the human rights act, no fudge there
    taken the poorest workers out of tax, no fudge there
    introduced the pupil premium, no fudge trhere
    abolished control orders, no fudge there
    abolished primary care trusts, no fudge there
    stopped the toreis aboliishing inheritance tax for millionaires, nof udge there

    on murdoch,
    you are right the gaurdian did great work, but vince’s comments showed our indepednece, as did the fact that only the lib dems, of the three parties have not been cosying up to murdoch, and vince followed his words with actions,r eferring the bid, which is exactly what murdoch would not have wanted. If he hadnt refrerered it, the deal would have gone through before the gaurdian investiagtions emerged, with the result that murdoch would have gotten much vitriol, but strill owned sky

  • @David Thorpe

    I am sorry, I just do not agree.

    You say

    “taken the poorest workers out of tax, no fudge there” When you include rises to VAT, changing eligibility for working tax credits from 16hours to 24 Hours a week, and reducing child care allowance by 20% then I am afraid this change to income tax means fuff all, When companies are looking to “reduce” peoples hours, rather than making redundancies, It makes no sense to move the goal post for working tax credits.

    “introduced the pupil premium, no fudge trhere” Again, this was supposed to be “NEW” money, and yet as we now know, it was recycled money from existing school budgets, and when you take into account rises to inflation.

    “abolished control orders, no fudge there” well actually yes there is, Your party, voted to retain control orders in there current form until the end of the year, before they change to “TPIMS” which is a re-branded control order, The home secretary is also going to retain the power to “relocate” someone in exceptional circumstances, Something that the Liberal Democrats where wholly against.

    “stopped the toreis aboliishing inheritance tax for millionaires, nof udge there” Can you show us the Legislation that has been signed and agreed which stops the TORIES from introducing this? And whilst your at it, please show us evidence where Osborne is not going to lower the 50p Tax rate in his next budget.

    So I stick by what I said in my previous post, when you break down the policy and look at what really happened. The Tories Pee’d all over libdem policies, so they resemble nothing like what was proposed or promised but the party still tries to portray this as wins and a credit for the party, well forgive us who live in the real world who finds this highly amusing and a big let down

  • Ms Dorres – just one point or two! The LibDems actually represent over 20% of the electorate (our corrupt electoral system gives the party 8% or whatever) – remember that!

    But thanks for telling the general public that the LibDems are exercising their 20%+ by reflecting what those voters (over half the number of your voters) are hoping from this coalition) yes coalition not a majority Conservative government! It was so pleasant to hear this very reactionary Right wing back bench (back woods) Tory clearly informing all and sundry that the LibDems are holding back the excesses of the wishes of Tory back bench zealots and ensuring progressive legislation gets put on the statue books. I have to admit I was never keen on the coalition because of the danger of destroying the Party & playing into the hands of Labour but Ms. Dorres has proclaimed why the Coalition might not be so bad after all – for the country and the LibDems (albeit the Party should have withstood the increase in student fees and scrapping of EMA).. That being said – Thank you Ms Dorres!

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