We must be doing something right – Mail rails at ‘Commie Clegg’, Telegraph blasts ‘Socialist Vince’

There’s a measure in marketing known as Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) — it’s used to assess the impact of coverage in the media. Glancing at today’s right-wing press, the Lib Dems have won headlines money can’t buy…

Nick Clegg’s push for increased social mobility, to equalise opportunities for the poorest in society, has earned him the tag ‘Commie Clegg’ in today’s Mail. This is of course the same paper that only two years ago splashed on the bizarre headline ‘Clegg’s Nazi slur on Britain’.

Meanwhile Vince Cable’s jettisoning of the controversial ‘fire at will’ proposals commissioned from Tory donor Adrian Beecroft by David Cameron has seen the Lib Dem Business secretary labelled ‘Socialist Cable’. This is some turnaround, given it’s only a fortnight since Vince was writing in the Telegraph of his crusade within Europe to push for greater deregulation and a more flexible labour market.

* 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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  • These are fantastic headlines for us – being berated by the right wing press for looking out for poorer students and protecting workers from getting sacked? More please!

  • mike cobley 23rd May '12 - 9:34am

    Phew, wot a relief! At last the public will see that, even though Libdem MPs supported cuts in jobs and services, we still love them! And they will love us back! Hey hey, job done – trebles all round!

  • Richard Swales 23rd May '12 - 9:43am

    In Czechoslovakia before the revolution, the ideal university or job application form started with “Father’s occupation: Coal Miner”, so yes this seems like a communist policy to me too (with the proviso that the article only says that Clegg “suggests” students from state schools with poorer grades should be advantaged – either the paper is leaping to conclusions or something deliberately ambiguous and cowardly was said – anyone know the original quote?). In the East they say that social democrats are just communists who feel sick at the sight of blood. Usually there though, social democrat means something more equivalent to the Labour party though rather than Lib Dem.

    The GCSE pass rates broken down by ethnicity and free school meals reveal the real problem. 78.5 percent of Chinese pupils passed 5 A* to C grades including 73.5 percent of those on free school meals. The overall pass rate is 58.2 percent falling to 34.6 percent for children on free school meals. I don’t believe that this can be because the Chinese pupils are going to different schools to everyone else or they are being unfairly prioritised within the same school. To me the explanation is that the problem lies in the anti-learning culture many non-Chinese kids are exposed to (and are actively choosing to become part of). Unless that changes there will never be parity in terms of entries to universities from private and state schools and there is no reason why someone like me (state school, 3 A-grades at A-Level) who has evidently chosen not to follow that culture anyway should be advantaged over anyone else. Life choices do and should matter.

  • I don’t think these kind of headlines do anything to help or hinder the Lib Dems. They just confirm to everyone in the centre and on the left that the right-wing and their supporters have gone barking mad.

  • Sorry – didn’t see it had been covered – but it is good for the Party that the battle has begun.

  • From Nazi to Communist in two years for Nick; while the Daily Mail, under its long serving editor, continues to defy the centre of gravity!
    It was ironically Vince Cable’s ability’s to convince the management of General Motors that labour laws were currently more flexible in the UK than in Germany which sealed the welcome triumph for UK manufacturing which was the saving of the General Motors factory at Ellesmere Port last week. But the Tory house paper can’t bear to allow the LibDems more than a few days’ credit, hence the turnaround.
    Yet again, I don’t think our media team has been up to much in highlighting how much of Vince’s hard work went into securing what was originally regarded as a long shot; by contrast, David Cameron has managed to promote the GM decision into several of his own press conferences, including those around G8.

  • From another source…..”The author of the report, venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, admits that the changes could result in employees being sacked purely because their employers didn’t like them but considers this to be a “price worth paying”.

    I’m sure he views the absence of ‘child labour’ and ‘sweatshops’ as a hinderance to economic ( i.e.’More wealth for Beecroft”) success. Beecroft’s ideal society would be one where ‘starvation wages’, no employee/safety/health regulations, etc. are the norm; a society in which ‘workers’ would be clients of “Wonga” and owned ‘body and soul’. I’m ashamed that we are in coalition with a party who wouldn’t immediately use such a document as ‘toilet paper’

  • Keith Browning 23rd May '12 - 12:57pm

    The greatest growth period in recent history was the Victorian period. Families of fifteen with a third or more dying before they were five years !!!! The good old days which spawned the rise of social democracy.

    Beecroft needs to be exposed for the slave labourer he aspires to be.

    However, there were rich Victorian philanthropists who fought for the rights of the population. Where are those people now?

  • Elliot Bidgood 23rd May '12 - 1:24pm

    Seriously? Takes a mainstream centre-left position = RADICAL COMMIE SOCIALIST! When did the right-wing press go full-hilt American Tea Partier?

  • Richard Dean 23rd May '12 - 1:45pm

    My impression is that these headlines do not do us much good at all. “Communist Clegg” is more memorable than “favour state pupils”, and those who are poor and ambitious can be embarrassed by being “given a leg up”. The stories tend to harden voters in existing attitudes, so making it harder to persuade them to switch to us.

    Clegg needs to explain to the electorate what he’s really proposing, which seems to be to measure unfairness as a precursor to doing something about it. Vince needs to explain (and particularly explain to investors) how his proposals will help rather than hinder the economy.

  • ..so.. your responsible for drawing up what you hope will become legislation, then you come out as you are doing us some great service by trying to stop it.. what puzzeles me is why you signed up for it in the first place. Makes you seem rather incompetent in government in my opinion..

  • Alex Sabine 23rd May '12 - 3:36pm

    I agree with Richard’s measured comments here, and also in another post regarding the realities faced by small businesses.

    There has been some silly name-calling on both sides of this debate in the media: calling Vince Cable a socialist (‘social democrat’ would have been accurate in my view, though less colourful); attacking Adrian Beecroft for being an ‘asset-stripping venture capitalist’, which shows no understanding of the positive role played by venture capital and private equity investment in the UK economy.

    On university admissions, I agree with Richard Swales that it is the cultural barriers to learning and the problems of low aspiration and attainment in the schools system that need to be addressed, not the symptoms by means of heavy-handed state intervention mandating positive discrimination in admissions. But let’s see what the government actually proposes on this.

    There was a good discussion of these issues on Lib Dem Voice last year: https://www.libdemvoice.org/fix-our-school-system-and-stop-unibashing-22725.html

    As Ed Long convincingly argued: “…Our elected representatives would do well to concentrate more on creating a state education system that produces highly capable applicants rather than attempting to dump their own responsibility on the much-maligned admissions office.”

  • Daniel Henry 23rd May '12 - 3:51pm

    Agree with Richard Swales.
    The anti-learning culture is the main problem rather than a lack of funding or fair selection.

    I suspect it’s the main reason why independent and grammar schools were more successful.

  • James Sandbach 23rd May '12 - 4:26pm


    you might be interested to learn that Adrian Beecroft is the majority shareholder in Wonga (so spot on..!!)

  • Richard Swales 23rd May '12 - 7:48pm

    Thanks Alex. I always thought two years ago, when Nick Clegg was pointing out that (if I remember correctly something like) one private school had more kids at Oxford than there were FSM kids (or was it black kids?) at Oxford, that it was wide open to someone asking how many of these kids were in schools run by Lib Dem councils – the thing was that Labour couldn’t ask it because the answer would be “fewer of them than in schools run by Labour councils”, there was also some reason I thought the Tories couldn’t ask it (which I can’t remember now – possibly just that it was difficult to ask it without sounding elitist) but some Paxman character could well have asked it.

  • jenny barnes 24th May '12 - 8:19am

    Just because some people overcome the difficulties of being in a disadvantaged situation, does not make it the fault of those who fail to. And equally just because some people succeed having been given all the advantages does not make it their own personal wonderfulness. Where you come from, how well off your family of origin is, and how educated, obviously affects how easy it is to succeed. It’ s not all individual choice and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.

  • Richard Dean 24th May '12 - 10:10am

    The Daily Mail is now saying that “Dr Cable is the single most destructive force in the Cabinet.” I imagine that means he has been pretty effective in intriducing a measure of common sense and clear thinking. Even so, a bit of more positive publicity would do some good, I suggest. Democracy is about communication as well as being right.


  • Alex Sabine 24th May '12 - 6:30pm

    In the interests of balance, I noticed this article in the Telegraph by their columnist Peter Oborne, who goes so far as to describe Vince Cable as “the moral centre of gravity for the Coalition and of British public life”!


    Ian: I think you hit the nail on the head about the range of qualifications for advancement under communism. Perhaps the main reason why the liberal market order is a morally superior system – not only to communism but also to the kind of crony capitalism that prevails in Russia or Chinese state capitalism – is that prospering in it is not reliant on preferment by a power-hungry elite sitting in judgement over the masses who are subject to it.

    Jenny: Just because some people overcome the difficulties of being in a disadvantaged situation, does not make it the fault of those who fail to.

    Why on earth would people overcoming disadvantages be anyone’s “fault”? If, as I assume, you mean “just because some people overcome disadvantages, the fact that others fail to do isn’t necessarily their fault”, then I’m sure everyone on this thread would agree with you and it’s therefore a straw man.

    Clearly people’s opportunities (in terms of upbringing, education, peer group etc) affect their capacity to lead successful, happy, productive lives. But, as Richard Swales points out, some people seize the opportunities they are given and others (from similar backgrounds in financial terms) don’t. Efforts to do something about this should be about levelling-up, not levelling-down; and if they are to succeed they need to correctly diagnose and address the causes rather than paper over the symptoms by instructing universities to take applicants who they don’t think are the best qualified.

    Jenny again: “And equally just because some people succeed having been given all the advantages does not make it their own personal wonderfulness.”

    I am an unashamed supporter of markets (as regular posters on this forum may have noticed) but I would not claim that the distribution of rewards in a market economy reflects moral merit or desert. No economic system can sensibly seek to do that.

    For instance, if market determination of pay were to be replaced by some collective evaluation of merit, not only would it do great economic damage, it would not even be just. For if inherited wealth and differences in educational opportunity could both be abolished, there would still be no inherent moral value attaching to the resulting distribution of income and wealth. As Hayek observed:

    “The inborn as well as the acquired gifts of a person clearly have a value to his fellows which do not depend on any credit due to him for possessing them, There is little a man can do to alter the fact that his special talents are very common or exceedingly rare. A good mind or a fine voice, a beautiful face or a skilful hand, a ready wit or an attractive personality, are in large measure as independent of a person’s efforts as the opportunities or experiences he has had. In all these instances the value which a person’s capacities or services have for us, and for which he is recompensed, has little relation to anything that we can call moral merit or deserts.”

    And as Sam Brittan notes in his interesting book ‘Capitalism With a Human Face’: “Indeed, it is one of the advantages of a market economy enjoying basic bourgeois liberties that a man’s livelihood does not depend on other people’s evaluation of his merit. It is sufficient that he should be able to perform some work or sell a service for which there is a demand.”

    Requiring capitalism to be meritocratic in a moral sense, so that its features and outcomes embody some notional collective will, is asking too much of it. Its usefulness to human societies is not that it rewards virtue (though it may sometimes do this) but that it’s better at meeting material needs and desires in conditions of freedom than alternative systems of organisation.

    But if the concept of ‘meritocracy’ in this sense is problematic and utopian, it has validity in the more limited and meaningful sense of the selection criteria for (say) a sports team, a university or a company board, because these organisations – unlike pluralistic societies – have discrete corporate objectives and it is surely better that they select people based on their suitability and qualifications for them.

    The fact that too few people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to good universities does not justify rigging the selection process. However it is a very good reason to tackle the failures in the state primary and secondary school systems which result in there being too few qualified applicants from these backgrounds.

    As Ed Long wrote in the post I linked to above, the real barriers to comprehensive school success in winning places at the best universities are “failure to achieve sufficiently high A Level results, and failure to counsel applicants to choose A Levels subjects that are sought by universities”.

  • Richard Swales 24th May '12 - 10:27pm

    @Ian Sanderson
    Yes, thats right, with the child of a coal miner-party member right at the top of the tree.

  • What would be interesting is to see how state vs privately educated students perform academically at university (for students with equal grades at A-level). If the state school students out-perform the private school students then there is a clear need to discriminate in favour of state pupils, all other things being equal.

  • This article suggests that there is a difference in academic performance between independent and non-independent school students (all other things being equal), rather than state vs private.


    If that is the case then I think any HE institutes that don’t discriminate against independent independent school students should have all public funding withdrawn from their teaching budgets (it wouldn’t make that much difference now anyway, given the coalition’s 80% reduction in teaching budgets). Why should any university that discriminates on social merit rather than academic merit continue to receive taxpayer’s money?

  • Steve
    It would appear that state-educated students do perform better at university than their privately educated peers.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/dec/03/state-school-pupils-university. As the job of an admissions officer is to assess the academic potential of their applicants then clearly they should be allowed to take this into account.
    Incidentally, given that the state educated perform better academically and that there are more of them at university
    (even Oxbridge has around 60%) it’s unlikely that improvements to state education will do much to loosen the grip
    of the privately educated on the most prestigious and lucrative professions.

  • I just wish these headlines had been at the start of this coalition, rather than after 2 years with so much damage inflicted to the country and the Liberal Democrat party standing.

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