Clear Yellow Water

Why today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

I'd be the first to admit that it's not the best catch phrase ever invented. It may be the worst. But clear yellow water is what the party grass roots has been begging for ever since we entered government. And it's a lot better than the sentiment of "not a cigarette paper between us" that we all so disliked for the first 12 months of coalition government.

And while there have been tentative steps in that direction for a while, today it's been delivered. The Lib Dems find themselves standing on the high ground of tax reform for the lowest paid and middle income families. Today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

Nick Clegg's speech today is being painted as a gamble. "If Osborne says no, Clegg looks impotent", goes the mantra. That's simply not right. If Osborne says no, the Tories look like right wing zealots hammering the poor while letting their mates in the City get away with millions in bonuses. Go on George, I dare you...

However, I wonder who has the real political problem today?

It is something of a paradox that we have ended up differentiating ourselves from the Tories by advocating tax cuts that they are not keen on. The irony of a Conservative chancellor not acquiescing to a request to cut taxes will not be lost on the electorate.

But surely more ironic is the lengths Labour have gone to in the last ten days to demonstrate fiscal prudence -- the iron fist keeping the cuts, freezing the pay for the public sector -- only to see the Lib Dems step into the void they have left and champion the poor. Oh Mr Miliband, where to now? Are you going to say these tax cuts would be too far and too fast?

Before you know it we'll be ditching the second worst political catch phrase ever invented ("Alarm Clock Britain" -- give it up, Nick) and start talking about the squeezed middle...

While the Tories now have a short term political quandary to solve, it's Labour who find themselves standing in a great pool of clear yellow water.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.