Clegg’s “savage cuts” return

The Lib Dem leader promised “savage cuts” last year — and now this year he’s got to defend them.

The Lib Dems can't say they weren't warned. At last year's conference Nick Clegg promised "savage cuts"; this year he's got the chance to defend them. With Clegg due at the UN General Assembly this evening, his keynote speech comes several days earlier than usual.

We've already got a flavour of the address from the extracts in the papers this morning and, judging by those, Clegg has two key messages: 1) The coalition is a temporary, not a permanent alliance, and 2) The cuts are necessary and Labour's position on the deficit is absurd and irresponsible.

Of the coalition, he will say:

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are, and always will be, separate parties with distinct histories and different futures. But for this parliament we work together to fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. That is the right government for now.

And on Labour and the deficit, he will attack the "absurd cardboard cut-out argument that there is this la-la land where you do not have to take any difficult decisions, no jobs are lost, no cuts are made, there is no pain, where everything recovers miraculously by osmosis -- the Ed Balls view of the future -- and that we are like modern-day Herods, slaying the firstborn".

It won't go down well with the left of his party. Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth, has admitted that he's "straining at the straps" and isn't even attending conference this year. The reliably rebellious Bob Russell has said he agreed to the coalition through "gritted teeth".

Meanwhile, Evan Harris, standard-bearer of the party's secular left, has a typically cogent piece in the Guardian this morning, reminding Clegg that it's really not good form to dress regressive cuts up as "progressive".

But, much to the media's dismay, the Lib Dem grandees are on-message this morning. Simon Hughes, that barometer of grass-roots opinion, has declared that the decision to back early cuts was "terribly simple", and Paddy Ashdown has said he backed the coalition "right from the start".

A debate on free schools and academies this afternoon may provide an opportunity for dissent but, for now, it doesn't look like there'll be any blood on the floor this year.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the media as he leaves a radio hustings on August 25, 2015 in Stevenage. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Corbyn's compromises show that he isn't so different from his rivals

The Labour leadership frontrunner is a politician after all. 

Jeremy Corbyn is lauded by his supporters for his honesty and conviction. His repudiation of the shabby compromises and realpolitik of Westminster. With no less fervour, he is denounced by his opponents as an unreconstructed ideologue, a man allergic to compromise. But as the Labour leadership contest reaches its denouement, the frontrunner is showing his pragmatic side. 

Having declared his support for British withdrawal from Nato ("I'd rather we weren't in it," he told the NS), Corbyn acknowledged at yesterday's Mirror hustings that there wasn't "an appetite as a whole for people to leave" and that he would instead call for the body to "restrict its role". The next Labour manifesto, should he oversee it, will not oppose membership (even the "longest suicide note in history" did not). Corbyn's compromise should not come as a surprise. Senior MPs told me that it would be all but impossible for him to find a shadow foreign secretary prepared to advocate withdrawal. On Tuesday, Andy Burnham, one of the few senior figures prepared to serve under the left-winger, had declared that he would resign rather than oppose membership. On this issue, Corbyn has shown that he is prepared to reach an accommodation with his colleagues and, more significantly, with the electorate - the act for which his rivals are condemned. 

Nor is this the first time that Corbyn has put pragmatism before principle. After refusing to rule out supporting EU withdrawal, he later clarified that "We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe." On the monarchy, the lifelong republican ruled that abolition could wait because "my priority is social justice" (another dreaded compromise with the electorate). If, as seems certain, Corbyn is elected leader, more trade-offs will surely follow. Once principles have been conceded a few times for reasons of electability or practicality it is harder to avoid doing so again. Corbyn, it turns out, is a politician after all. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.