Friday, July 09, 2010

Clegg plans to soothe his MPs as voters feel pain of Budget cuts.

Nick Clegg is to meet with Liberal Democrat MP's in an attempt to keep them on board as he backs the savage cuts to public services being proposed by George Osborne.

Mr Clegg is making early preparations to head off the inevitable disquiet among his own MPs, many of whom regard themselves as being on the centre-Left.

They have all been called to next Thursday’s away day at the Local Government Association headquarters in Westminster, where they will be joined by Liberal Democrat peers, council leaders and party officials.

Mr Clegg’s aim to reassure them the party is achieving concrete results from the power-sharing deal, citing the commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform next year, the increase in income tax thresholds and the creation of a judge-led inquiry into accusations the security forces colluded with torture.

He will urge his MPs to sell the achievements during the summer recess to activists ahead of their annual conference in Liverpool in September.

I have applauded the inquiry into allegations of torture and can also see why it is in the Liberal Democrats interest to have a vote on electoral reform, but I find it very hard to see either of the above as sufficient recompense for a budget which is amongst the most severe of my lifetime.

And the Liberal Democrats, as Clegg himself seems to concede, will face a brutal time at next year’s council elections. Clegg has led them into what I regard as the worst of all possible worlds.

I had hoped, when Clegg proposed a coalition with the Tories, that he would manage to hold them back from their worst excesses. Instead, he has managed to obtain a few meagre compromises, but overall appears to have resigned the Liberal Democrats to giving the Tories cover for the most regressive budget many of us can remember.

I am actually stunned that the Liberal Democrats have managed to hold themselves together.

For the irony here is that they will pay a much higher price for what has transpired than their Tory counterparts. Right wingers will love the fact that Osborne has started attacking people who claim benefits, but Clegg's natural supporters will not. Indeed, many of those who voted Liberal Democrat in order to prevent a Tory government from taking power will never vote Liberal Democrat again.

But Clegg did make one point which made me laugh out loud:
The Deputy Prime Minister will insist that the party is retaining its separate identity in the coalition and ask for suggestions on how the Liberal Democrats can continue to carve out a distinctive political niche.
That's a joke. Clegg has blood up to his elbows and is claiming that, were it not for his intervention, the blood would actually be up to his neck. He thinks we should be applauding him for that. Our stony silence has not yet reached his ears.

Somewhere down the road Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are going to pay a dreadful price for their contribution to this coalition. The irony, of course, is that the Tories will not. We expected no better from them.

Click here for full article.

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