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Clegg sets out his stall for 2012

19 December 2011

4:23 PM

19 December 2011

4:23 PM

Under cover of discussing the Open Society and its enemies, Nick Clegg today set out his
personal agenda for the next year of this government. Indeed, Clegg’s speech to Demos
earlier was perhaps the purest distillation of his politics since the big set-piece number he
delivered at the Lib Dem conference in 2008. It contained many of the same themes as that earlier speech: ‘social mobility’, ‘civil liberties’, and ‘democracy’.
And it added a couple more for good measure: ‘political pluralism’ and ‘internationalism’. The Deputy Prime Minister described these five political impulses as ‘the
source of my liberalism’.

As for the specifics, there was Tory-baiting to be found in Clegg’s much previewed attack on recognising marriage in the tax system, as well as in his criticism of those who would choose
‘populism, insularity, separatism,’ etc. But a heavier emphasis was placed on what Clegg hopes to achieve, policy-wise, within the coalition. Some of this, he suggested, is already
being implemented; such as the localism agenda, which he rightly described as ‘postcode democracy’, rather than a ‘postcode lottery’.* Yet there are other areas where he
would like to see further action, foremost among them Lords reform. As Clegg put it:

‘The Lords is perhaps the most potent symbol of a closed society. Because we are in the process of building support for a Lords reform package, I am sometimes advised not to be too
outspoken on this issue. But I’m afraid this is one boat that urgently needs rocking.’ 

This is all clearly part of Clegg’s reheated differentiation strategy, which I blogged about yesterday. It’s how he hopes to both placate traditional Lib Dem supporters and keep
the coalition going until 2015, but it also comes with significant risks attached. By enumerating, so clearly, what he hopes to achieve in the months ahead, Clegg is not just differentiating himself
from David Cameron, but also providing his party with a check-list by which to measure his achievements — and the final count may not be as flattering as he would like. Lords reform, in
particular, faces a tough route to the statute books, and the process could easily turn nasty. After tuition fees, AV and Europe, the Lib Dems probably know better than to get their hopes
up.    

*Incidentally, this attitude towards localism is one that Clegg shares with George
Osborne
.


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