David Blackburn

Clegg’s Liberal Moment

Clegg’s Liberal Moment
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Last year, Nick Clegg told the party faithful that Britain was about to embark on a ‘Liberal Moment’. He gave them some of that good old religion – civil liberties, the abolition of tuition fees, arresting tax evasion.

A year on and it’s a case of plus ca change. The Lib Dem conference hums to the patter of tuition fees and tax evasion. Much is being made of the disquiet among the grass roots about spending cuts, but this was the party that opened last year’s conference with the promise of ‘savage cuts’ and Vince Cable produced a detailed dossier of savings.

Spending cuts were inevitable then and are necessary now. Nick Clegg will argue that it was the Liberal Democrats’ duty, as the holders of the balance of power, to form a coalition with the Tories. Electoral oblivion was the alternative.

Fleet Street’s truffle hunters are sniffing for a split, but the parliamentary party’s loudest voices are in accord. Even the usual dissenting suspects are on board: Simon Hughes has called the decision to cut a ‘terribly simple’ one to make; Vince Cable is laughing off the double-dip doomsayers; Paddy Ashdown welcomes the coalition’s ‘temperate’ and ‘fair’ retrenchment strategy – the poorest, he argues, are protected by the presence of Liberal Democrats at the Cabinet table. Britain has embarked on a liberal moment, but not quite in the manner Clegg intended.