Monday, 12 December 2011


[I have taken to writing a blog some hours before posting it so that I can review the language. This is a good discipline particularly when referring to our charming coalition 'partners'. You might say there's no 'f' in coalition...]

Ouch. The Independent today discusses whether the Lib Dems should stay in the coalition with the Tories or whether we should accept that we have nothing in common with their self-destructive approach to the world and pull out now, probably precipitating a new General Election. The answer is simple. We have to stick it out, however hard we must hold our noses.

We went into the coalition with the Tories because it was in the national interest. People attack Nick Clegg for changing his tune but he said this before, during and after the General Election campaign. He was absolutely, unequivocally clear that we would work with whichever party won the most votes. Thankfully, in this case it was the Tories for, let no one forget, Labour in 2010 was entirely washed up, with one of the most unpopular leaders ever, a Chancellor promising cuts pretty much along the lines of what we have now and absolutely no idea about what to do next. They were lost and they still are, as Ed Miliband demonstrated on Sunday when the best response he could come up with in response to the European debacle was to declare that he agreed with Nick. And this man has ambitions to be Prime Minister. Seriously.

By contrast, the Tories offered us a good deal. We have lost out in some areas like student fees and the referendum - call it political naivety - but in others we are doing well, such as cutting taxes for the lowest paid, investing in education for disadvantaged schoolchildren and wrestling with the nightmare of our energy policy. We are doing good Lib Dem stuff in government and that will all stop if we walk away. We are also working hard to deliver the stability which is so clearly lacking in much of Europe and which remains the touchstone of this government's success. It's hard, it is hurting but if it succeeds we will all benefit, even union leaders on £120,000 a year who seek to derail all these plans. [Note: the fiery anachronistic leader of UNISON gets this princely sum each year. I wonder how many of his poorly paid members know that...]

On a more inward-looking tack, if the Lib Dems do leave the coalition and an election is called, it's unlikely to be wine and roses for us. We have good arguments and a principled stance but Joe and Josephine Public haven't been sold on that yet. We need time to get the message across that we are holding the Tories in check and delivering on our promises. I don't know many people who dislike the Tories as much as I do and that is because I have seen close at hand how they operate. This government needs principles and clarity of purpose to survive and that isn't going to come from them. Lib Dems need to fight them all the way but do it from the inside.

So plaudits to Nick for what has become one of the best assaults of recent years on arrogance and ignorance in government and the abject failure of British diplomacy in Europe, for which David Cameron is 100% responsible. Forget the nuanced arguments of various pundits about why he did it - he failed to negotiate wisely for our interests in an international forum, he failed to engage with partners and he was comprehensively outflanked by the French - the French, goddamit!

I agree with Nick and I wish him well in what is going to be a Hell of a week for us and for our disastrously isolated country.

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