What are Clegg’s yellow lines?

Alex Hern examines whether there are any areas left for the Liberal Democrats to hold firm on - or have they compromised on every policy going?

 

Throughout this Eurozone crisis, we’ve heard a lot about David Cameron’s ‘red lines‘ on Europe – the measures he absolutely will not agree to, no matter what the result.

But what we have heard little of are the ‘yellow lines’; those areas which the junior partner in the coalition will not compromise on.


If you had asked grassroots Liberal Democrats twelve hours ago, they may well have told you that Britain’s role in the centre, rather than the periphery, of the EU was one of those lines.

Nick Clegg himself gave that impression in November, when he said:

“We must move together. The greatest danger we face is division. That is why, while the United Kingdom fully supports deeper fiscal integration within the euro zone to support monetary union, we would not wish it to become a club within a club.

“To retreat from each other now would be to leave ourselves isolated in extremely tempestuous times.”

Today, he is singing a different tune:

“I regret that last night it proved to be impossible to find a way forward as a group of 27 on European treaty change. I have said for months that it would be best to avoid arcane debates about treaty change altogether and if we had to proceed down that road, it would be best to do so in a way that did not create divisions in Europe.

“The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the Coalition Government was united, were modest and reasonable. They were safeguards for the single market, not just the UK.”

The question on the lips of Liberal Democrats today must be: Are there any areas on which Nick Clegg will not compromise?

The common view of the Lib Dems before the election was as the party of students, civil liberties and Europe. The betrayal on the first of those three is legendary. The Lib Dems went from a manifesto committment (pdf) to “scrap unfair university tuition fees” (p33) to voting for a near tripling of those fees.

The party hasn’t been much better on civil liberties. Their commitment to end child detention has become a commitment to end some types of child detention. They have supervised a creeping militarisation of the police, been silent on the use of kettling during peaceful protest, and voted for removing the right to see a solicitor for free after arrest.

These may have been what Lib Dem voters thought were the priorities, but the leadership can reasonably claim that they detailed four very different priorities (p6-7):

Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket

A fair future creating jobs by making Britain greener

A fair chance for every child

A fair deal by cleaning up politics

Are these the yellow lines? That doesn’t look hopeful either.

The Lib Dems did manage to pass measures raising the tax threshold to £10,000, but as we’ve reported, by breaking the key promise – that they would be “paid for in full by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit the wealthy and polluters” – and instead paying for it with the VAT rise, the overall package becomes highly regressive.

Making Britain greener doesn’t look like its a no-compromise promise either. We’ve reported time and again (and again and again) about how the self-styled ‘greenest government ever’ is nothing of the sort. They’ve done no better on their promise to clean up politics. The right to sack MPs has been forgotten, civil liberties are on the back-burner, and they have been thoroughly stitched up on Lords and electoral reform.

So the Lib Dems’ last hope for something that they can point to as a line which they will not cross is their promise to children. The pupil premium is a mere reallocation of funds, and class sizes have risen since the election. The one promise that Clegg’s party have kept from their “first priorities” appears to be their pledge, in line with Gove’s reforms, to “give schools the freedom to make the right choices for their pupils”.

It appears that the only lines Lib Dems won’t cross are the ones which Tories don’t want them to. If that is the case, it is no wonder that grassroots activists told us this morning that they don’t know what to think anymore.

See also:

Lib Dems: We are delivering on our End Child Detention pledgeTom Brake MP, November 18th 2011

Hammond hammers another nail in the coffin of the “greenest government ever”Alex Hern, September 30th 2011

Clegg’s defence of Human Rights Act as welcome as it is timelyDr Prateek Buch, August 26th 2011

Clegg’s £10k tax allowance is no Tory concession; it’s a Tory dreamTim Horton and Howard Reed, May 12th 2010

Cameron’s misleading claim on schools fundingSunder Katwala, January 26th 2011

26 Responses to “What are Clegg’s yellow lines?”

  1. Pedro Lara

    EUROCRISIS: Where exactly are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/3fu7MmDN @AlexHern looks through a history of compromise #EU

  2. peter beaumont

    EUROCRISIS: Where exactly are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/3fu7MmDN @AlexHern looks through a history of compromise #EU

  3. toby

    EUROCRISIS: Where exactly are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/3fu7MmDN @AlexHern looks through a history of compromise #EU

  4. I pay my tax do you?

    EUROCRISIS: Where exactly are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/3fu7MmDN @AlexHern looks through a history of compromise #EU

  5. Selohesra

    Perhaps Libs realise that being the centre of something is not an end in itself – if the something is a disaster zone then perhaps the periphery is the smarter place to be

  6. Political Planet

    What are Clegg’s yellow lines?: Alex Hern examines whether there are any areas left for the Liberal Democrats to… http://t.co/BB8UDsgz

  7. Newsbot9

    Uh? They’re in a disaster zone (the government). They’re in power for it’s own sake.

    Your argument is about as credible as the government’s economic policy.

  8. Cathy James

    RT @leftfootfwd: What are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/JOUwLxFn #frothers

  9. Gary Banham

    The Lib Dem sell-out since joining coalition spelled out, from students to EU: RT @leftfootfwd: EUROCRISIS: Where http://t.co/oxdhfWxa

  10. Selohesra

    My argument? – are you suggesting the eurozone isn’t just a little bit of a diaster. What are you on? – because I want some 🙂

  11. Anonymous

    If Clegg’s lines are yellow then Cameron’s must be blue. Yet you have described Cameron’s lines as red.

    Otherwise, you make valid points.

  12. Newsbot9

    No, I’m arguing that your argument is meaningless given the position of the LibDems in a disastrous coalition which is killing their support base.

    Then you’re arguing for isolationism for isolationism’s sake, and the EU is NOT the Eurozone. We’ve hurt ourselves in the EU.

  13. The view from abroad: The day Britain locked itself out | Left Foot Forward

    […] up Irish citizenship to demonstrate just how dedicated to the EU she was. Now that is drawing a yellow line in the […]

  14. Look Left – Europe 26-1 Cameron: Britain isolated like never before | Left Foot Forward

    […] Alex Hern wrote today, if Nick Clegg wasn’t even prepared to make a stand on this, what is he prepared to speak […]

  15. dave simpson

    RT @leftfootfwd: What are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/6rmqtJQd

  16. Brucemoll

    RT @leftfootfwd: What are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/6rmqtJQd

  17. Larry Southpaw

    The only lines Lib Dems won’t cross are the ones which Tories don’t want them to… http://t.co/TjRWvvNK

  18. david bush

    The only lines Lib Dems won’t cross are the ones which Tories don’t want them to… http://t.co/TjRWvvNK

  19. Jeni Parsons

    RT @leftfootfwd: What are Clegg’s yellow lines? http://t.co/tCta0kVI #otmp #occupylondon There aren't any, he's a Tory

  20. Simon

    Some slopppy simplications and often inaccurate claims.

    For example on air quality the buck (in relation to London at least) largely stops with Boris Johnson where he often has failed and certainly consistently refused to adopt Lib Dem policies, such as Clean Air Zone for central London.

    As for the environment just take a look at the Daily Mail and Daily Express to see how much they resent Chris Huhne pushing through the growth in renewable energy.

    Btw thank goodness the Labour Party policy (as of the 2010 General Election) of a third Heathrow runway is not being followed through.

    As for changes to some of the tactics and policies in the Met this is an example of what Liberal Democrats have been saying.

    http://glalibdems.org.uk/en/article/2011/530004/met-s-threat-to-use-plastic-bullets-is-a-total-disgrace-dee-doocey

    I agree the Lib Dems need to step up to the plate in some key areas, but this website also needs to step up to the plate in actually basing its articles on real facts.

  21. Alex Hern

    @stavvers I called up a few researching this piece http://t.co/ccs5BSfx Best response was "I don't know what to think anymore".

  22. Zoe

    @stavvers I called up a few researching this piece http://t.co/ccs5BSfx Best response was "I don't know what to think anymore".

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