Why the Tories should welcome Clegg's left turn

If they are to remain the largest party after 2015, the Conservatives need the Lib Dems to win back left-leaning voters in Tory-Labour marginals.

Conservative MPs rarely need much prompting to lament the "curse of Clegg" but the Deputy PM's broadside this week against Michael Gove's free schools "ideology" has enraged them more than most. For them, this is the worst example yet of Clegg signing up to a policy and then petulantly rejecting it when he proves unable to live with its consequences (cf. the NHS reforms, the boundary changes, childcare ratios). 

Clegg's public revolt against Gove's reforms (most notably the use of unqualified teachers by free schools and their non-use of the national curriculum), in common with his appointment of Norman Baker as Home Office minister, is part of a conscious effort to differentiate his party from the Tories ahead of the general election. With the Lib Dems still rarely polling above 10%, Clegg is increasingly focused on winning back the left-leaning voters who defected to Labour almost immediately after the coalition was formed. And, if only for electoral reasons, the Conservatives should be cheering him on. 

If they are to remain the largest party after 2015 (the possibility of a majority being too small to be worth considering), the Tories need the Lib Dems to woo Labour voters in Tory-Labour marginals. At present, after the defection of around a quarter of 2010 Lib Dem voters to Labour, they stand to lose dozens of seats at the next election (the Corby by-election was an early warning) - there are 37 Conservative-Labour marginals where the third place Lib Dem vote is more than twice the margin of victory.

This fact has often led Tories to wonder aloud whether a change of Lib Dem leader before 2015 is in their interests. The hope was that a social liberal alternative such as Vince Cable or Tim Farron could prompt the party's former supporters to return home from Labour. Tim Montgomerie told me last year that "a left-wing replacement" of Clegg in 2014 was "vital to Tory hopes". But the Eastleigh by-election victory, the return of economic growth and the prospect of another hung parliament have combined to secure his position. With no left-wing challenger available, the Tories should welcome the next best thing: a more left-wing Clegg. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.