Speaking at a south London primary school this morning, Nick Clegg firmly reiterated the Lib Dems’ equidistance between the two other major parties. Before an assortment of public-sector workers, Clegg attacked the potential ‘reckless borrowing’ of Eds Balls and Miliband, as well as George Osborne asking ‘the working poor to bear the brunt’ of cuts. ‘In the centre,’ he said, ‘my party, the Liberal Democrats, we believe in sound public finances, supporting strong public services.’
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
What was (sort of) new was Clegg stating that,
‘once we’ve balanced the books, clearing the so-called structural deficit, the Liberal Democrats will increase public spending in line with Britain’s economic growth.’
Going back to middle, Clegg promised that ‘we will spend less than Labour, but cut less than the Conservatives’, and that ‘we’ll finish the job but we’ll finish it fairly.’ This is now the holding pattern the Lib Dems are in, believing that equidistance is their political sweet spot, or, at the very least, their best chance of survival.
Clegg’s appearance this morning perfectly summed up both the good and bad of the Lib Dems’ positioning. He announced the introduction of US-style mental-health training and provision in the public sector, starting in the blue light services. This is a very important, very admirable step. Mental-health provision is something Clegg has personally championed for years, in both opposition and government.
However, the act of being less mean than the Tories, but more economically competent than Labour, is wearing a bit thin. It just isn’t enough to excite people, and the stubbornly unshifting polls prove it. Being a political break, when people are desperate for an accelerator, isn’t working. With less than 200 days until the General Election, it’s time for Nick Clegg and his party to shift gear.