So Nick Clegg wants to present himself as anti-Establishment, does he? That’s hardly surprising. After all, the Deputy Prime Minister has ploughed this furrow before now, attacking the ‘vested interests’ that are the banks and the political class. And it’s generally a large part of the Lib Dems’ ‘differentiation strategy’ to come across as insurgents in suits.
But Clegg’s comments today are still striking for how far they weaponise this theme and then turn it against the Tories. It’s not just the context of it: with Tory ministers — including Jeremy Hunt — appearing before Leveson this week, Clegg chooses to attack those who ‘bow and scrape in front of Rupert Murdoch’. It’s the specifics too: Clegg stresses that ‘My view, hardened by two years on the inside, is that Britain is not broken at all. It is the British establishment that is broken’ — which sounds like a dismissal of David Cameron’s Broken Britain thesis.
Of course, it’s right that politicians should be talking about the things that Clegg is talking about: expenses, the banks, collusion between politicians and the media, etc — whether you agree with his prescriptions or not. But plenty of his Tory colleagues in the coalition will find this galling nonetheless. For starters, they’re irritated at how the Lib Dems are trying to seize the cool ‘n’ caring mantle for themselves. For seconds, they think that the Lib Dems aren’t exactly beyond a bit of bowing and scraping themselves. ‘Hypocrisy,’ is how one Tory MP described it to me recently.
And all this is coming after Clegg’s Europe speech last week, which — as James revealed — was delivered without the assent of No.10. It already threatened to be a bad-tempered spell for the coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister could be making it worse.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.