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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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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