The deputy prime minister tells David Goodhart how he shrugs off the cries of “Judas” and accepts that “you often cannot defeat emotion with reason”by David Goodhart / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
“The coalition agreement itself was my original sin. Tuition fees and so on are an add-on”
Click here to read David Goodhart’s feature on Sheffield and the Liberal Democrats
Nick Clegg is confident and candid enough to know that his reputation has taken a battering in Sheffield, where he is one of the city’s six MPs. Even some of his own party members in the city, he says, are “bewildered” by his support for the coalition’s policy on tuition fees. Having pledged to fight the policy, only 21 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs voted against the government when it won the fees vote on 9th December. But the anger isn’t mainly about his turnaround on fees, Clegg argues. Nor about Lib Dem support of the coalition’s radical deficit cuts. Nor even about the controversial cancellation of a loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. So what is it about?
“For many people in Sheffield there is a suspicion of the Tories that runs deep. They believe the Tories destroyed the city in the 1980s. So it was the coalition agreement itself that was my original sin. I got a lot of emails and letters from people asking ‘How could you do this to us?’ The other unpopular things—tuition fees and so on—are a kind of add-on to that.”
He adds: “Sheffield is still a very public-sector dependent city, and it’s going to be tough. But it won’t be like the 1980s, when there were whole settled communities dependent on a single industry, steel.”
I had been in Sheffield for a few days, probing into the political disquiet, before talking to Clegg. I asked him about morale among his party activists in the city—which is run by a Liberal Democrat council—and his own constituency of Hallam. “Well, they hate being attacked for lack of integrity—that hurts a lot because we have always seen ourselves as having a special sort of political integrity. And some of the activists are bewildered at being protested against by students and others. But that’s the real world for you.”
Things are going to get worse in May, I put to him, when the Lib Dems seem almost certain to lose control of the city council to Labour. At the same time they may also lose the national AV referendum on electoral reform. Could northern Lib Dems be the weak link in the coalition?
Clegg retorts that there is…