David Blackburn

Where will Clegg meet his Waterloo?

Where will Clegg meet his Waterloo?
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The FT’s Jim Pickard writes:

‘Cameron will be cursing the order of the debates. He’d much prefer to be attacking Nick Clegg on domestic issues than foreign affairs on Thursday.’

I’m not so sure. Foreign Policy is the arena where the Tories are concrete, populist and accessible. The same is not true for the Lib Dems.

Along with Iain Martin and John Rentoul, Pete noted that Ed Davey is vague on the Lib Dem Trident replacement policy. Davey's vague with good reason: the policy is hopelessly confused. The manifesto says:

‘Rule out the like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system. At a cost of £100 billion over a lifetime it is unaffordable, and Britain’s security would be better served by alternatives. We support multilateral nuclear disarmament and will ensure that the UK plays a proactive role in the arms reduction talks starting later this year.’

Arms reduction and arms eradication are two separate things. Clegg is in favour of a Tirdent replacement, but he’s no idea what it will be. The Tories are firm: replace Trident, which is relatively cheap because the Americans give it to us off the shelf. That seems sensible, although the Tories should defer the purchase until the current political and economic climate shifts. Extend spending in certain areas obscures the overarching argument about cuts. Overall though, Cameron holds the ace on this vital issue of national security.

Cameron has a clear, simple message on Europe: if concessions are not obtained by the end of the next parliament, the British will go to the ballot box with malice aforethought. By contrast, the Lib Dems have pretensions to nuance. Sarah Teather told the Daily Politics that Europe was good for the UK, but that the Lib Dems were critical. Fine, I disagree with the first statement but the second is welcome.

How does the manifesto express that criticism? It offers little beyond glorified efficiency savings and contradictions. Against sensible pledges to abolish the Strasbourg parliament and budget reform lays the ‘reform of agricultural subsidies so that farmers, consumers and taxpayers get a fair deal, and the environment is protected.’ Would that not require further subsidies? I come from a farming background and can tell you that it would because French and German farmers will not accept CAP reductions.

There’s no mention of serious structural or treaty reform, and nothing about expansion. This will come as no surprise to Coffee Housers: the Lib Dems remain committed federalists. Hence the ‘betrayal of democracy’ over the Lisbon Treaty, which Cameron must hammer away at like Gordon Brown quotes statistics because vast public resentment persists.

Clegg was lacerated by Jim Naughtie on the Today programme over Europe and the euro. He still dreams of joining the single currency, despite admitting that if Britain had joined the country would be even worse-off than it is now. When will the time be right? Not even Sagacious V can answer that. The Lib Dem manifesto holds nothing to suggest that Clegg will be anymore coherent on television. Whether that bothers the adoring audience remains to be seen.