Two rather interesting reconciliations are taking place today. Ed Miliband is making the first speech of a Labour leader at the Durham Miners’ Gala since 1989. And Nick Clegg has been trying to charm the left of his party into believing that all is well in the Liberal Democrat world.
The latter largely involved Clegg trying to encourage the left-leaning Social Liberal Forum’s annual conference to develop a sort of persecution complex. So the audience was told not to ‘underestimate how much the right and the left want to destroy us’, and to remember that ‘if we aren’t going to stick up for ourselves, no-one else will’. It was difficult, he acknowledged, to have doors slammed in your face on the campaign trail because ‘we’re sensitive little violets’. ‘I’ve had it with apologising,’ said Clegg, hitting his lectern. ‘I’ve had it with this defensive sort of crouch.’
While making himself sound like a sensitive little flower fairy crouching under a leaf in fear of rampaging angry voters, Clegg did also address some of the concerns of the SLF, which is probably the most upset wing of his upset party at the moment.
On Lords reform, he said that Cameron had said he had to sort out ‘real problems in his party on this’, adding ‘he says he wants the summer to sort that out’. He added: ‘Of course that brings us into uncharted territory and of course, said I darkly, that will have consequences.’
He said that the past year had ‘bluntly been cruel’ to some people, pointing to “a number of highly controversial changes in welfare”, the freezing of tax credits and inflation, as well as the move from the Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment being ‘one of the most difficult decisions we have made’.
And he listed all the ways in which he was keeping the Really Bad Fairy, Michael Gove, in check. ‘Gove’s got this thing about wanting to have profits in the state school sector,’ he said. ‘I said absolutely no, that’s not going to happen.’
Clegg said he had blocked free schools being ‘everywhere’ (which sounded a little odd given the Education Department unveiled a further 100 only yesterday). And he described the proposal to scrap GCSEs and return to an O-level-style system as ‘potty’, adding ‘it’s not going to happen’.
It’s slightly difficult to see what is going to happen. The BBC’s Allegra Stratton blogged yesterday that the Treasury is worried about the dark consequences of this new uncharted Coalition territory for the next spending review. The Liberal Democrats might be sensitive little violets on the doorstep, but they’re turning out to be far more bullish behind closed doors.