Nick Clegg chose to speak to his party not the country today. His address was a justification of his decision to go into government with the Tories and a plea for his party to stick together over the next five, difficult years.
The crucial bit of the speech came when Clegg said of his party ‘maybe we got used to [being against every government that came along] ourselves’ but ‘imagine if we had turned away. How could we ever again have asked the voters to take us seriously?’ Clegg’s point was that opposition was not an option and ‘this country could not have borne five more years of Labour’. So, coalition with the Tories was the only option.
We also saw in Clegg’s speech the coalition’s first attempt to justify its deficit reduction programme now that the prospects of a soverign debt crisis has receded, now that the crisis is—as Clegg put it — ‘invisible’. Clegg’s message was that all the money spent on debt interest can’t be spent on other, more productive things.
One noticeable thing from a policy perspective about the speech was how often Clegg referred to the pupil premium. Judging by how many times it was mentioned, Clegg is clearly confident that it is going to be significant. He also again stressed his belief in work, suggesting that welfare reform will make work pay. There was, though, noticeable no mention of the coalition’s health reform plans.
Interestingly, the speech contained a slew of sharp attacks on Labour. He said how Liberal Democrat councils were used to clearing up after ‘Labour had spent a community dry’ and delivered a long passionate, attack on Labour for everything from destroying civil liberties to widening the gap between rich and poor. Because Clegg is — for obvious reasons — not attacking the Tories, these attacks seem all the more fierce.