David Blackburn

Clegg’s chance to lead by example

Clegg's chance to lead by example
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Nick Clegg will deliver his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference later this afternoon. It has been substantially trailed this morning, despite competing for airtime with Nick Robinson's story about the injection of an extra £5 billion of capital spending into the economy. Similarly to Monday's Q&A with activists, Clegg is expected to defend the government's deficit reduction plan and insist that Britain can resist dire global economic trends.

It remains to be seen whether Clegg will concentrate on the rest of the government's programme, especially its radical public service reforms. There is some concern in pro-government circles that he will not. Clegg's new £50 million summer school scheme to prevent youths from "falling through the cracks" is dominating news outlets this morning. But what of the government's academies programme, which has already markedly improved standards in formerly failing schools? While Lib Dem education minister Sarah Teather did not mention them in Sunday's speech, will Clegg be more forthcoming?

The same goes for welfare reform. Clegg played a vital role in ensuring that IDS plans were appropriately funded in last year's spending review and he has been a vocal advocate of reform ever since. But senior Liberal Democrat ministers have said precious little at this conference about these ambitious and potentially revolutionary measures.

Right-wing commentators note that the Lib Dem modernisers have held their tongues before a social democratic onslaught in Birmingham. Danny Finkelstein makes this point in his column in this morning's Times (£), concluding that the party must continue its journey to the centre of British politics if it is to survive, not retreat to the left. Yesterday, Nick Clegg insisted that the party must communicate the government's centrist message to the country. He needs to lead by example.