Former deputy PM defends role in coalition and turns fire on Brexiteer Tories like Michael Gove—and also the Labour Partyby Tom Clark / September 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
In his only engagement in the Liberal Democrat conference, Nick Clegg launched a defiant defence of his record in the coalition at a packed Prospect meeting—and warned his still-traumitised party it should stand ready to share power again.
Over two years after leaving office, and three months after losing his Sheffield seat, the former deputy prime minister was in a relaxed mood, but did not diguise his simmering anger not only at Conservatives such as Michael Gove with whom relations broke down, but also at a Labour Party which he blamed at least as much for the failure of his ambitious hopes of constitutional reform.
Despite the “rose garden” moment with David Cameron in 2010, Clegg insisted that there “had never been a bromance.” Pushed on whether he had got too close, during early months when he had suggested that Cameron’s “Big Society” was another name for the liberal society, he insisted that behind the scenes he had been battling tooth and nail against the Tories on all sorts of policies from the off. It was, he claimed, down to the Liberal Democrat refusal to countennance deeper spending cuts that George Osborne’s Treasury agreed to postpone the completion date for its fiscal targets, suggesting that the party’s stance had taken the harshest edge off austerity.
Clegg did not criticise his immediate successor, Tim Farron by name, but implicitly distanced himself from the platform he ran on this year, which had ruled out any fresh coalition with the Tories. He railed against the alternative to coalition for minor parties, of extracting leverage from a minority government in return for life support—the option that the Democratic Unionists are currently taking, by extracting money from the Treasury for Northern Ireland, in exchange for keeping May in power.
Although Clegg is currently energetically campaigning to stop Brexit in parallel with Tony Blair, he insisted he did not share Blair’s confessed bewilderment with the changed political world which has produced the Leave referendum result, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success. It was, Clegg insisted, all down to the long squeeze in living standards since 2008. While insisting that his party should fight all the way against Brexit, in answer to questions from the audience that the…