Clegg pours cold water on Cable’s “progressive majority”

The Lib Dem leader dismisses those who “still dream of a progressive alliance”.

It is somehow typical of Nick Clegg's fate that a speech ostensibly designed to distance himself from David Cameron has already been defined by the phrase "muscular liberalism". After all, it was that same clunky label which Cameron used to describe his approach to multiculturalism in the speech that angered so many in Clegg's party.

Based on the extracts I've seen, the Lib Dem leader's address on "The Coalition and Liberal Politics" will be dominated by the argument that the coaliton is one of "necessity, not of conviction", a temporary alliance rather than an ideological union.

He will say:

There has also been some talk of a so-called centre-right "realignment" since the formation of the current coalition. This is just nonsensical and naive. As I said earlier, this is a coalition of necessity, not of conviction. Realignment consists in practice of two-party political system continued by other means. It is a polite euphemism used by people who want to continue the fight between one gang and the other gang – with us as a temporary recruit to one side. I didn't come into politics to simply replicate the two-party system under the guise of realignment. That's not my definition of pluralism.

Yet the difficulty for Clegg is that, like Cameron, he has frequently given the impression that he is happier sharing power with the Conservatives than he would be governing alone. The foreword to the coalition agreement, for instance, declared:

We have found that a combination of our parties' best ideas and attitudes has produced a programme for government that is more radical and comprehensive than our individual manifestos.

All the same, it's safe to conclude that we won't see a Tory-Lib Dem pact or anything like it at the next general election. But perhaps the most notable thing about Clegg's speech is the scepticism, and even contempt, with which he treats the idea of a "progressive alliance".

"There are still those who dream of a so-called 'progressive alliance'," he will say, "forgetting that Labour had 13 years to make some moves in that direction and never quite seemed to get around to it until, in desperation, they tried to cling to power last year."

That's a none-too-subtle rebuke to those such as Vince Cable and Chris Huhne who boasted that the adoption of the Alternative Vote would finally make the dream of a "progressive majority" a reality. It's also yet more evidence that Clegg is in no mood to forge the roots of a future alliance with Labour.

The Liberal Democrats, he insists, will stand their ground "in the liberal centre of British politics", neither the "anti-Tory party [nor] the anti-Labour pary". Once more, there is an obvious contrast with Cable, who argued that AV would prevent another Conservative century.

It's a bold declaration by Clegg and one, you feel, that won't do his potential challengers on the left any harm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.