Clegg stakes everything on the coalition

Lib Dems won’t pull out if referendum is lost ++ Clegg claims party’s “identity crisis” would be wor

There's been much discussion of the impact that the electoral reform referendum will have on the future of the coalition, but Nick Clegg has just put a stop to speculation that the Lib Dems could walk away.

In a Radio 4 interview due to be broadcast this weekend, he suggests that his party would not quit the government even if the referendum is lost.

It's not altogether surprising that Clegg isn't willing to stake everything on the Alternative Vote, a system he once denounced as a "miserable little compromise". But his provocative comments -- he declares that the Lib Dems aren't "a sort of glorified form of the Electoral Reform Society" -- are likely to unsettle the party's grass roots further.

Then there's his dubious claim that the Lib Dems would be in an even worse position (YouGov's daily tracker has them on 14 per cent) if they hadn't formed a coalition with the Tories.

He adds that nobody would be taking "any notice" of the Lib Dems if they weren't in government, a rather harsh verdict on his party's pre-coalition existence. And he argues that his party's "identity crisis" would be far worse if it was in government with Labour.

That's a none-too-subtle rebuke to Simon Hughes, who claimed this week that a progressive alliance with Labour was still "on the agenda". It also sounds like a slightly hurt response to Ed Miliband's declaration, in his NS interview this week, that he would demand Clegg's resignation before doing any deal with the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg has now unambiguously staked his political future and that of his party on the coalition. Expect some serious dissent come conference season.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame