Nick Clegg has opened the political season with a very singular statement: ‘There is no future for us as left-wing
rivals to Labour. Clegg urges his internal critics to be patient: the future could be yellow if the coalition is maintained.
It’s a gamble. Immediately, Clegg has alienated those who abandoned Labour for the Lib Dems and his explicit disavowal of ‘left-wing’ politics will have the social democratic wing
of his party reaching for their hat and coats. But, Clegg has planted his colours on politics’ crowded centre ground, recasting his party’s identity as an economically liberal and
socially liberal centrist movement. Bargaining that the era of majority government is over, Clegg has pitched the Liberal Democrats as a tempering influence on the excesses of left and right in
government – he states that a future coalition with Labour is not of the question, providing the party has won the most votes and the most seats.
Clegg spends the rest of the interview with the Independent illustrating how he has ‘put a Lib Dem imprint’ on the government, trying to convince the bearded brigade that he
is not a faceless technocrat.
"It is not a game of parallel shopping lists. What is emerging is something much more interesting – a mix, a blend of things. Of course you get tensions in a coalition and there
are differences of emphasis, but we have been working incredibly hard to combine thinking on both sides." A "classic example" is an NHS policy merging Tory plans for GP
commissioning with Liberal Democrat proposals to decentralise and make the service accountable to local government.’
Education reform (pupil premiums), welfare reform (incentivising work) and raising the tax
threshold can be added to that list of syntheses. Naturally, Clegg hopes that university funding will follow suit, but admits he may be defeated by ‘the impracticalities’ of it all.
The Lib Dem’s polling is meagre, but five years is an eon in politics. Clegg’s plan is ambitious, but he can claim a substantial portion of the centre ground if his party
doesn’t self-destruct. His task will be a lot easier if the Labour party doesn’t elect David Miliband; in fact, the implicit assumption in Clegg’s statement is that Labour
will lurch to the left, presumably under the younger Miliband’s leadership.