8 Oct 2014

Clegg attacks ‘un-British’ grievance politics

Nick Clegg told Lib Dems they are the only party not trading in fear. That section came after lines galore suggesting how terrifying a Tory majority government might be.

A decent two thirds of the political insults in Nick Clegg’s speech were Conservative-facing. Two thirds of the seats face Tories challenging in second place. The leadership is focused on trying to win over “moderate Tories” in those seats who could make the difference between wipe-out and viable survival in 2015.

He attacked a politics of grievance personified by Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond which is “un-British,” divisive, scapegoating and which the Labour and Tory parties weren’t helping as they retreated into their ideological silos.

The bitterness with the Tories claiming ownership of the raised tax threshold policy burst out in a tale from the cabinet table. Nick Clegg revealed that George Osborne, when he refused to implement a bigger tax threshold leap in the 2012 budget, said: “I don’t want to deliver a Lib Dem budget.”

He went on to cut the 50p rate down to 45 instead.  As the remark is said to have been made to Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg by the chancellor in the run-up to the budget, you have to assume that it is a very public leak of words said in the top secret quad meetings when those three, with David Cameron, carve up the biggest coalition decisions.

You might think that a pretty micro observation, but it came in a speech in which Nick Clegg was trying to sell the idea of “coalition” as a better form of politics.

He’s selling coalition not just to the public but to party members and MPs who are minded to sit out the next parliament in the hope of re-grouping and growing back the party.

Nick Clegg’s team knows a minority government, followed within a year by a second general election, could be terminal for the Lib Dems as the voters were asked for a clearer answer to the “who governs?” question.

In an echo of David Cameron’s “so Britain, what’s it gonna be?” direct appeal, Nick Clegg told his activists to ask the people of Britain: “How will you judge us? By the one policy we couldn’t deliver in government, or by the countless policies we did deliver in government?”

Like David Cameron at his speech a week ago, Nick Clegg slipped on a Help for Heroes wristband for his big day. His student amateur dramatics skills often come through in these speeches. His delivery helped to fire up the activists. There were big cheers for attacks on the Tories, for the mental health promise and the attack on single party governments.

Tomorrow these activists will stare at more grim polls and contemplate another lost deposit in the Clacton by-election. One member leaving the hall said he’d enjoyed the week but “we’re going to take a hammering … we keep 25 to 30 seats, I think”. With a stoical smile, he strolled off to catch his train.

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