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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn has defied the odds and embarrassed his critics

The pundits were wrong, writes Liam Young. 

On Tuesday I said that Labour would need time to show any drastic improvement in nation-wide elections. With the results now clear I still hold to that premise. After a scary result in Scotland, a ‘holding on’ in Wales and a rather better than expected showing in England it is clear that the public has produced a mixed bag of results. But for Labour, something very interesting has happened.

Before the results were announced pundits were predicting roughly 200 seat losses for the Labour party across local councils. Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest opponents suggested that Labour would lose councils in the South owing to the anti-austerity message being viewed as irrelevant. There was also the suggestion that Labour would gain votes in the heartland of the North where it already controlled a great number of seats. It seemed that the pundits were wrong on both counts.

One thing is clear and undeniable. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has defied the odds at this election. It looks like the party will lose no more than 30 council seats and that its vote share on 2015 will be up by roughly 4 per cent at the expense of the Tories. People will rightly say that this is depending on the standard the results are measured by.

But I think that John McDonnell made a convincing argument last night on exactly how to judge this performance. Given that many simply want to spend time speculating about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership it seems entirely reasonable to measure Labour’s success based on the party’s movement since he became leader. As mentioned above if this is taken as the standard Labour has increased its share of the vote and has beat the Tories after being some 14 points behind in the polls just a few months ago.

Commentators were arguing even at the point of polls closing that Labour would lose control of key councils such as Southampton, Harlow, Carlisle and Nuneaton. Yes – everybody remembers Nuneaton. But these predictions proved false. Labour did not just hold on to these areas but in a great deal of them the party increased its share of the vote and indeed its share of council seats. Labour has truly defied the odds across England.

The information that was shared in the weeks before the election on Thursday suggested that with Labour’s current position in the polls it would lose 170 seats. Some went as far as to suggest we would lose towards the 300 mark given the crisis Labour found itself enveloped in during the run up to voting. Opponents were kind enough to note that if we achieved parity with the Tory vote we would only lose 120 council seats.

While any loss is regrettable I have made my view clear on why Labour faced an uphill climb in these elections. Despite the rhetoric we have lost just over 20 seats. I agree with John McDonnell’s call this morning that it is time for the ‘begrudgers’ to ‘put up or shut up’. No wonder they are being so quiet.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.