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.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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