Nick Clegg’s lecture to Conservative MPs yesterday was far from helpful. His instruction that we should stop playing games about the EU and concentrate on “boosting business, creating jobs,helping with the cost of living” is especially rich coming from a Lib Dem who has promoted policies of dear energy for years.
The Coalition rightly stated at its outset that the overriding objective was to get the deficit down. Conservatives proposed a major slimming of government itself, cutting the overhead and cost of administration. To lead this, we proposed removing 50 MP posts. Surely if we are going to tell the public sector to do more with less, we had to show that we could do that ourselves by raising MP productivity. Mr Clegg has now voted that down, showing that he and his party have no wish to provide leadership by showing how we can cut our costs.
Mr Clegg has also been the leading exponent of diverting the Coalition away from its vital tasks of curbing the deficit and promoting growth. He forced upon the Coalition the idea of an AV referendum. Conservative MPs gave him his way and voted for the referendum. The British people rightly rejected the whole idea of AV. It was a big diversion of political and government energy. It was another needless public spending cost.
Then Mr Clegg decided to divert us all by trying for his version of Lords reform. The Conservative Manifesto had said we would see if there was a consensus for some reform, recognising it could only be done with cross party agreement and with the agreement of the Lords. Mr Clegg failed to secure the Lords agreement or the agreement of Conservative backbenchers. He rejected wise advice from Lib Dem peers to reform tenure, retirement and conditions of peers’ jobs. He instead went for a reform which was never going to pass the Lords. It ended in tears after further diversion of political and government effort.
Conservatives who press the government on the EU do so over issues like migration and energy prices which are very relevant to the central economic task that concerns most voters. What is Mr Clegg’s excuse for his diversions from these matters? And how does he explain his refusal to put through a major freedom bill at the start of the Parliament, when he had Conservatives egging him on to do so? Why couldn’t we have enjoyed a great package of more cvil liberties and more economic freeedoms, as part of the recovery of our nation?