Peter Hoskin

Clegg and the coming of liberal conservatism

Clegg and the coming of liberal conservatism
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Nick Clegg is a liberal, and just in case you'd forgotten that fact he gave a speech today in which the word features some 64 times.  As it was made at the think-tank Demos, it's a touch more wonkish than his recent efforts on cutting back the state - but still worth a read for those who want a general sense of how the coalition sees itself.

The main purpose of the speech is, I suspect, political.  It says, to any of Clegg's sceptical colleagues, that the government's agenda is liberal, liberal, liberal all the way.  From cutting state spending to Michael Gove's schools reforms, the goal is to "disperse power and build capability in our citizens."  But it also has a deeper, and very true, subtext: that the liberal and conservative traditions share a great deal in common. Or as Clegg puts it:

"Sometimes the differences between us are on matters of substance; but very often they are merely questions of language. David Cameron's eloquent description of what he calls the Big Society is what I would call the Liberal Society."

Of course, you could say that Clegg is obliged to make these points, as someone who has to make the coalition work.  But throw in the more tactical arguments that he is making behind closed doors, and it reinforces the sense that the Lib Dems (or at least their leadership) are drifting further away from Labour. Yet, still, no-one in the red corner is doing much to close that gap.