The government’s u-turn on sentencing reveals something quite important about the
Lib Dems’ approach to coalition. Despite having backed Ken Clarke in private, they have stayed as far away as possible
from the issue in public.
The Liberal Democrats were determined not to put themselves on the wrong side of the public on this issue, to end up copping the blame for ‘soft sentencing’. As one senior Liberal
Democrat said to me recently, "we’re determined not to walk into any bear pits. If there is a big flashing neon sign above something saying ‘Tory trap’, we’ve got to be
disciplined enough not to fall into it."
Clegg’s circle believes that the Tories want to put them on the wrong side of the public on a whole bunch of populist issues: notably, welfare, immigration and crime. Their response is to
fight in private when the public is against them and in public when it is with them—as it was on the NHS.