Thursday, 18 December 2008

Clegg; neither messiah nor disaster

. Happy Anniversary to Nick Clegg; I have to say having anniversaries this close to Christmas has always struck me as being potentially a bit tricky on the present front. However, I digress from serious comment and there is plenty out there as you might expect on this issue. Firstly, the man himself penned a piece on Liberal Democrat Voice.

It was a good enough article; solid and steady, focusing on policy. Herein lies a problem which Stephen Tall alludes to in his piece when he talks about Clegg being a 'policy wonk'. It seems our strategic vision is to have the right policy and let the masses flock to our banner; which, as I comment elsewhere isn't really enough for a third party. Martin Land picks up this baton in his article on the same site.

Clegg wisely eschewed the 'Preparing for Power' approach; choosing instead to say;

"We will take crucial steps to winning power in order to fundamentally change the way Britain is run and the way people are treated."

It struck me that this means Clegg feels he is 'preparing for a coalition' but maybe I am wrong. Regardless, with regard to a vision for our party, it would have been nice to hear what Clegg thought they were/should be; or are they just policy based initiatives?

When it comes to policy much remains unsettled. One of the most famous gaps is the mythical £20 billion which is rapidly acquiring the status of Holy Grail when it comes to taxation policy. It was wrong to name a precise figure (which may well not be enough to cover the cuts we want in any case) and is one of things that is regularly exploited by opposition, especially Labour. I expect that the March conference may well bring a restatement of our opposition to tuition fees at least (the outcome on faith schools is less sure to my mind) and it will be interesting to see the policy implications for this; if the leadership does try to end our opposition to the fees it has an hard fight on it's hands which it may well lose. Because tax cuts were made into such an empty vessel (you can find supporting evidence for saying it is evidence for a lurch to the right but there are also crumbs of comfort for the left) they have stuck and enjoy support across the board. However, tuition fees are a clear-cut yes or no issue.

Specifically, Clegg used today to launch the 'Green Road out of Recession'. Thankfully, there seems to have been a shift away from baneful and punitive policies on tolls and charges and more towards the government funding the infrastructure. This has not met from approval from all with some attacking the 'spending splurge'. However, this just shows how choppy the inner party waters can be for the leadership.

Clegg's gaffes need to be mentioned. They have formed a consistent pattern and it may well be true that they are of the 'too open and honest' nature and taken together they lend themselves to Stephen Tall's 'Work in Progress' thesis. However, they also lend themselves to the view that what is lacking is strategic vision and steel with the 'policy wonk' figuring they don't matter when they do and will more so in the run-up to the election when the largely hostile press will seize on everything it can to discredit us as being even ready to be a partner in government. This rather suggests, as none of these have constituted resigning or challenge issues in themselves, that the role of Ros Scott as our new president will become pivotal.

It will be up to her to provide the aforementioned strategic steel and support for Clegg. Finding your feet after a year is still understandable however understanding would not survive a loss of seats from an electoral squeeze. Altogether to my mind the jury is still out but will enter the room as soon as the public return their own verdict at the polling booth..

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