16 Jun 2014

Clegg on Iraq, coalitions and Gove

The coalition position on Iraq as outlined by Nick Clegg at his press conference this morning might strike you as less than heroic. He would support the US if they decided to attack Isis forces from the air in Iraq. He wouldn’t join in because the mood here is that “people are wary”. He also hinted that we were over-stretched and might not be able to help them anyway.

His main reason for this press conference was to unveil a commitment to protecting an extra chunk of the education budget, am extra £10bn of spending on early years and 16-19 year olds. More ring-fencing inevitably puts pressure on other Cinderella departments. He said he’d talk about where some of the cuts come from another time.

He said Lib Dems would again make clear in their manifesto what the party’s “red line,” “die in the ditch” commitments were and David Laws was working on what those should be next time round.


He repeated his post-European Parliament elections statement that Lib Dems if in government again would look for a mix of cuts and tax hikes in deficit reduction in contrast to George Osborne’s commitment to 100 per cent spending cuts. Some of his party’s notoriously democratic policy-making bodies bridled at that presumption, more on democratic principle than than policy objection.

He also repeated his hostility to the false promise of a “pastel” in-between arrangement: confidence and supply. The only options after 2015 (assuming a balanced parliament) were coalition or not. Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian’s outstanding on-line pages asked if the Lib Dem leader would consider giving voters more of a clue about what a coalition agreement with Labour or the Conservatives would be about ahead of the general election.

Nick Clegg dismissed that as “Blue Peter,” “here’s one we made earlier” politics. But for a party that proclaims itself pro-open government etc there is an essentially closed-off, “keep out” quality to the critical coalition-forming process that voters are excluded from.

It took Nick Clegg 11 minutes at this press conference before he (unprompted) brought up “Michael Gove“. As is well known, his party polling suggests Michael Gove is a repelling magnet for potential Lib Dem voters. But I hear Tory polling suggests Michael Gove’s has a similar effect on the Tories’ target voters.

That’s just one reason why  Mr Gove would never be moved to the post of party chairman that some true believers would love to see him occupy. Mr Gove’s more immediate concern will be finding a form of words to distance himself from his longstanding adviser and friend Dominic Cummings.

Mr Cummings is quoted in the Times having a pop at the PM and his chief of staff Ed Llewellyn. Mr Gove faces ministerial questions in the Commons this afternoon.

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