David Blackburn

The novelty factor

The novelty factor
Text settings

Nick Clegg was run-through when he and Jim Naughtie last crossed swords. A different outcome today – the deputy Prime Minister was composed, defending the coalition’s tight agreement. Naughtie was in ‘we’re lolling in a cafe on a dusty street, a donkey brays at the dying sun' mode, and never pressed Clegg.


First, Clegg assured Naughtie that government continued without David Laws, and he echoed John Redwood’s and William Waldegrave’s point that Chief Secretary is a political job in which the author of the coalition agreement, Danny Alexander, has every chance of excelling. Naughtie didn’t mention Lib Dems’ hypocrisy on expenses, which might have shaken Clegg.

CGT tapering came next. Clegg was diffident in his admission that the ‘homework had not been completed’, but assured that a fair and sensible deal was in the offing. And to think we marvelled at Lord Mandelson's savoir faire? He has the dexterity of a trucker next to Clegg’s mix of earnestness and insouciance.

At last, Naughtie asked a tricky question. How would the Lib Dems maintain their identity as the junior partner in the coalition? To date, the Lib Dems have dominated proceedings but their novelty will wane. They will maintain momentum by gradually enacting Lib Dem policies that survived coalition negotiations. Clegg intimated that it would take five years to deliver voting reform; it shouldn’t: it only takes a minute to print the AV forms. The Lib Dems will be the Civil Service’s dream government: their policy is to procrastinate.