Clegg and Cameron’s stage-managed ruckus

Nick Clegg and David Cameron are keen to play up their differences. But are there really cracks in t

The Prime Minister and his deputy both gave interviews to national newspapers this weekend. It was obviously David Cameron's turn to be Good Cop in the Daily Telegraph. He duly took the softly-softly approach, discussing watching DVDs with his wife in bed and putting together Ikea cupboards. Nick Clegg, however, was Bad Cop in the Independent. A very bad cop, indeed.

After a rather-too-revealing interview in the New Statesman this month, Clegg has attempted a self-reinvention, turning himself from a simpering punchbag and teary-eyed audiophile to a hardened political street fighter, swinging at anyone who gets in his way.

"I'm a human being – not a punchbag," he whimpered to Jemima Khan in the New Statesman, while also admitting that he cries to music. Now, though, he's not a human being, he's an animal, tearing strips off anyone who looks at him funny or gets in his way. John Reid? "Reactionary and backward-looking." The Tories? "A right-wing clique who want to keep things the way they are."

Clegg even massacres the English language to prove what a tough nut he is. "I am probably harder line than anybody . . . about making sure that Liberal Democrats don't get rolled over."

And it has worked. The Lib Dems haven't been rolled over – in his head, at least. "If you were a political expert from Mars and you didn't take your cue from the Daily Mail, you would conclude that this is, objectively speaking, a quintessentially Liberal government."

But hang on, the coalition is fundamentally Tory, says Cameron in his interview:

People who voted Conservative can look at this government and say, of course it's a coalition, I didn't get everything I wanted, but I got reform of the welfare system. I got a cap on immigration. I got the abolition of Labour's jobs tax; a massive expansion of academy schools. I think Conservative supporters have every reason to think, "Of course this government hasn't solved all the problems of the country, but they're on my side."

As the local elections near, both leaders are desperate to paint their party's principles as the guiding narrative of the coalition – and emphasise that neither of them really likes coalition government. In this regard, they sound remarkably similar, for men so eager to emphasise their differences.

Clegg describes the coalition as an "unsentimental . . . transaction", sounding awfully like a husband justifying his visits to a call girl. Clegg doesn't want a relationship with his bit on the side – Cameron means nothing to me, Miriam! "I see all this stuff about how we are somehow mates. We are not. We are not there to become friends," he says. "I didn't come into this coalition government to look for friends." Tennis partners, perhaps – but not friends.

Cameron, meanwhile, gets the point across through a loud conversation with a Conservative councillor in Southampton, in earshot of the Daily Telegraph's Allison Pearson.

"Can we get a few right-wing Lib Dems over to us?" asked Cameron. "Coalition's working well. Quietly deprive the Lib Dems of their seats?

"Don't write that down," the Prime Minister says to me jokingly.

He might as well have thrown her a cheeky wink. With local elections and the AV referendum just two weeks away, it is no wonder that Clegg and Cameron are preaching to their respective choirs in the Independent and Daily Telegraph.

The interviews, however, are electioneering, plain and simple. Any talk about "cracks" in the coalition on the back of them is misplaced. It's a stage-managaged ruck to please the punters and nothing more.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.