Clegg and the Centre Ground
One nugget in Steve Richards’s Whatever It Takes is that Miriam “had her doubts” about the “sudden transformation” in her husband’s public status as a result of his good showing in the televised debates. She was “intelligently sceptical about the theatrical dimension in British politics”, he writes, and was proved right by the Lib Dems’ disappointing election result.
Recently, though, Clegg has been written off by the newspapers as an unprincipled opportunist heading for a fall over public spending cuts. Today’s interview with The Independent suggests that there may be more to him than that. The key bit is this:
There were some people, particularly around the height of the Iraq war, who gave up on the Labour Party and turned to the Liberal Democrats as a sort of left-wing conscience of the Labour Party. I totally understand that some of these people are not happy with what the Lib Dems are doing in coalition with the Conservatives. The Lib Dems never were and aren’t a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour Party. There is no future for that; there never was.
I thought he was ruling out the long-term option, dear to many Lib Dem hearts, especially those from the Social Democratic tradition, of replacing Labour as the main alternative to the Tories.
In fact, he was making a narrower tactical point, which was that in the latter Tony Blair years the Lib Dems found themselves to the “left” of Labour on crime, immigration, civil liberties and foreign policy. Some of that remained by the election despite Gordon Brown’s unsteady lurch to the left.
It was an uncomfortable and unfruitful place to be, as the loss of five seats in the election showed. Now Clegg is telling it like it is to his party. They won’t like it, but it is impressive.
And — call me a one-track member of the New Labour Establishment if you are an Ed Miliband supporter — it carries an important message for the last few voters in the Labour leadership election. Labour’s big mistake would be to let Clegg get away with moving his party back to the centre ground. David Miliband as leader can hold that territory. His brother is most unlikely to do so.Tagged in: nick clegg
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