As the technicians were setting up the microphones before Nick Clegg’s speech this morning, one asked the other: “Which way does he look?” “Usually looks this way,” replied the other, looking out to his right. Clegg looks right. I wonder whether he likes what he sees there.
The speech was about the state of the Coalition. In he walked and he got straight to it, standing on a dais before a blue screen on which was written the slogan “Stronger economy fairer society, stronger economy fairer society…”
People don’t like what they see when they look at Westminster, Clegg said. They don’t like “game-playing,” over Europe and gay marriage. “Anyone watching would be forgiven for asking what these politicians are doing.”
It immediately became more than plain whom he was talking about—the Conservatives. But in the good Liberal tradition of never quite being able to duff someone up to the full, he was quick to point out that he is “absolutely committed to this coalition lasting.” His tie beamed out yellow, his suit dark blue. He “couldn’t disagree more,” that it was time to pull the plug on the government—ducking out now “didn’t make any sense.”
“Sincere policy debates are a natural part of coalition,” he said—an interesting euphemism. “But the parliamentary game-playing discredits the importance of these issues and is an unwelcome distraction.”
Conservative backbenchers, party members and activists—the entire Tory tribe—will fume at this charge of game-playing. And not content with twisting their tails once, Clegg went on to deliver the biggest dig in the ribs of all, raising once more the subject of the hated mansion tax—a 1 per cent levy on homes valued at over £2m. Clegg said he thought the idea was a reasonable one. A subject more liable to bring the Shires to a chorus of frenzied outrage it is harder to imagine.
The message—the Coalition will hold. I am going nowhere. Can the Conservative back benches please button it.
Answering questions, Clegg said firmly: “I will be leader of this party until the next election,” and that: “Shrill, tongue-twisting manoeuvres,” in Parliament would only put people off politics. Ouch. On Europe he said: “We are not going to be taken…