It’s a funny thing, reading the speech on AV that Nick Clegg delivered to the IPPR this morning. It starts off as you might expect: putting some distance between his party and the Tories. Everything is Liberal-this and Liberal-that, while “conservatives” are cited as the opponents of change and choice. But then, from nowhere, comes one of the most brutal attacks on Labour that Clegg has delivered in some time. “For every £8 we are cutting they would cut £7,” he quivers. “To deny that reality is to treat the British people like fools.” The New Statesman’s George Eaton has sifted through the numbers here, but the main point is simply the sheer force of Clegg’s words. He doesn’t mention Eds Miliband and Balls by name, but it’s clear that he has them in mind when he talks of “political cowardice”.
From there on in, much of the speech is devoted to the successes not just of the Lib Dems in coalition, but of the coalition itself. “Look at some of the issues this government has been able to tackle by bringing two political parties together,” says Clegg, before launching into a list that includes welfare reform and measures on social mobility. And always, always, always, there’s the idea that the economy would implode were it not for the action being taken by Cameron and Clegg in unison.
Against all that, Clegg’s arguments for AV (e.g. that it would “make MPs work harder”) rather fade into the background. Instead, we have a speech that reaffirms the purpose of the coalition after a tumultuous few weeks. The ties that bind the Tories and the Lib Dems, it seems to suggest, will not weaken because of a vote on 5 May — not least because the issues at hand are too important.