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Nick Clegg shows some nifty footwork as the election campaign kicks off

January 5th, 2010 Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics by

Nick CleggMost will now have read Nick Clegg’s article in the Times (if you haven’t its here). What did you make of it ?

Naturally we all read it (well some of us did) looking for clues as to which way Nick Clegg is inclined to lean in the event of a hung parliament. Yes folks groan….the hung parliament question. (oh come one – it’s not going away anytime soon – especially while the Tories tie themselves up in knots over simple stuff like tax bonus’ to married couples…)  

So what did it tell us? On face value, some say, not a lot. The New Statesmen was one of many groaning at the lack of clarity… “Despite the fighting talk that “the Liberal Democrats are not for sale”, Clegg remains frustratingly reticent” .

But I think I can see the clever tactician in Nick Clegg emerging…… In his article Nick says that the actions of the Lib Dems (in the event of a hung parliament) will be governed by their commitment to four central principles: fair taxes, a fair start for children (with smaller class sizes and a “pupil premium” favouring poorer children), a sustainable economy, and fair, clean, local politics.

When asked on Radio 4’s Today programme “Is this a centre left agenda ?” he said “It’s a fair agenda, yes.”

But ~ and perhaps crucially~ he also wrote in today’s Times article that the Lib Dems intend to “respect the will of the public” …” The voters are in charge and the decision is theirs. If voters decide that no party deserves an overall majority, then self-evidently the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or, if it chooses, to seek alliances with other parties.”

(I am not sure what he means by ” the party with the strongest mandate” .. is that number of votes or number of seats ? hmmm).

I think it rather nifty piece of footwork from Nick this early in the skirmish. He keeps the activists happy and off his back with open talk of being centre left – and helpfully nodding to those Labour party voters “oop north” who will be comforted by Nick’s words,  and might just be prepared to  vote tactically if push comes to shove. Well at least it can be spun that way to Lib Dem activists fighting the “target Labour seats”.  Box ticked.

It is however frankly very difficult to see the Labour party emerging post-election as “the party with the strongest mandate” . So whilst he may pitch the party as “centre-left”  it seems perfectly clear that in the event that the Conservatives don’t secure sufficient seats for an outright majority – he is willing to do business with them.  That also might be enough to keep his sitting Lib Dem MP’s fighting the Tories a good enough story on the door steps.

It should also be noted that coming off the back of a year where politics took more than a bit of a battering – the line that there will be “no under-the-counter deals” is a good bit of positioning for the Lib Dems. A subtle reminder that we are the clean honest party (well ok a Lord or two excepting …we certainly came out a whole lot better than the other two).

And of course, IF we face the Conservative minority scenario his hands will be clean with his own party – he can look innocently at them and say it was the voters who forced his hand – the activists can groan all they like but they will just have to put up with it.

On balance pretty nifty I think.

Ok Ok yes it would be nice to see a more definitive “liberal” agenda, some strong narratives and a couple of catchy headliners – but we are 16 weeks or so out from a general election.  A bit of pragmatism must be called for.  He may still have a campaign headliner or two up his sleeve…. my friends on the news desk still expect a more assertive “get out of Afganistan” stance from Nick before this campaign is over. And let’s hope his team have him well-drilled for the TV debates….

But – given that we are where we are – I think it will do. For now.

4 Responses to “Nick Clegg shows some nifty footwork as the election campaign kicks off”

  1. Lib Dem reaction to Brown and Cameron's "love bombing" of Mr Clegg | Left Foot Forward Says:

    […] Harbutt writing on Liberal Vision is pleased: “I think it rather nifty piece of footwork from Nick this early in […]

  2. Neil Stockley Says:

    I think it was interesting for the way Nick reframed the issues around a hung parliament. He wants to get away from the question, “who would the Lib Dems support?” which is dead man’s curve and so gave an opaque response, in the Times article and on the Today programme.

    Instead, Nick is focussing on how the Lib Dems would use greater political power if they got it, by listing the key policies that should have most appeal to the party’s target voters (“if you like what we offer, vote for it”). This is not an original gambit, but I think he has done it very well.

    The next task, though a start has been made, is to market and frame the pledges in the correct way.

  3. Niklas Smith Says:

    I agree with Neil and Angela, Nick has struck precisely the right note. (Though, re. a later post, I think putting on a purple tie may be taking things too far!)

  4. Julian Harris Says:

    I’ve deleted two comments here as they seemed to be Spam.

    If either were genuine comments, feel free to get in touch.