1 May 2013

Clegg: voter hostility easing but we could come fourth

I’ve been with Nick Clegg campaigning in Lewes. He thinks some of the sharpest anger towards him and his party post-2010 is dissipating.

His aides talk of people being a bit more “neutral” than they used to be and the accusations of treachery are fewer. His team hopes these elections can mark a moment when the hemorrhage of support they suffered in the 2011 and 2012 local elections can be stemmed.

That said, when I interviewed him Nick Clegg didn’t challenge the idea that his party could well come behind Ukip in fourth place in share of the vote in Thursday’s county council elections in England even if their seat tally is better than the new insurgents.

I asked Nick Clegg about ring-fencing in the spending round and whether he’d stand up to those ministers trying to raid ring-fenced budgets. He sounded sympathetic to the whole idea as long as you could define what was spent on “health,” say, as “health-related” and not a missile system.

David Cameron sounded pretty receptive to the idea (he’s already burrowed some holes through the Dfid ring-fence) when I interviewed him on Monday and any minister hoping Nick Clegg will intervene on their behalf on this one can whistle, I think.

I also asked about that drastic cut in capital spending that came in 2010. Nick Clegg suggested the government regretted it but had no choice, was “honour bound” to do the drastic capital spending cuts that Labour had committed to in government. I suggested there were lots of projects that could have been activated by schools and councils and it was a real choice made by the coalition. Nick Clegg disagrees.

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