Nick Clegg’s Welsh discomfort

Ed Jacobs with the latest on the Liberal Democrats' electoral prospects after all their coalition discomfort.

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg is today hitting the campaign trail for the Welsh Assembly elections amidst growing anger at the course that he is taking the party in coalition with the Conservatives.

Following Left Foot Forward’s article looking at Nick Clegg’s Scottish discomfort, the picture seems to be equally bleak in Wales.

Having seen his party in Wales drop to 7.6 per cent in a recent poll for the Western Mail, Clegg’s visit comes as he faces yet another defection to Labour. This time, Paul Penlington, the Liberal Democrat candidate in last year’s general election for the Vale of Clwyd.

In announcing the move, Penlington was particularly critical of the coalition’s decision to abolish Educational Maintenance Allowances and the party’s U-turn on tuition fees. He explained:

“Nick Clegg says he wants to increase social mobility. How are underprivileged children to take their first steps into further education without some financial support?

“The cuts the Liberal Democrats are helping push through are really hitting ordinary working people. I know several people who have already lost their jobs and others who are really worried about supporting their families through simple things like their ability to pay their mortgage.

“It feels like we are being dictated to by a coalition led by multi-millionaires with no genuine understanding of the financial hardships caused by their actions on ordinary people. When the coalition was first formed I thought it might not be such a bad thing to have the Lib Dems in there to put a brake on Tory excesses.

But it now seems the party leadership are going along with a completely Conservative agenda and that is why I have decided the time has come to leave the party. I feel I’ve been let down, they are not representative of the party I joined any more.”

And to compound the misery a poll for ITV Wales released last month had just three per cent of those questioned saying they thought the Lib Dem leader in Wales, Kristy Williams would make the best first minister.

Indeed, when broken down by party, just one per cent of those who said they would vote for the Lib Dem’s coalition partners in London, the Conservatives, said they felt Williams would make the best first minister compared with seven per cent who opted for Labour’s Carwyn Jones and Plaid Cymru’s Ieuan Wyn Jones.

Writing for the Guardian online, Martin Kettle has explained that the Lib Dem’s problem remains that voters in Wales and Scotland are venting their frustration with the coalition in London on them, rather than the Conservatives. Kettle goes on to conclude:

“In both Scotland and Wales, liberalism has been a resilient and proud, and above all an anti-Tory, tradition since the days of Gladstone. Now those traditions are on a cliff-edge of destruction. Across the UK, the Lib Dem vote is proving much less resilient to the demands of the coalition than, confession time, I had expected.

Can the Highlands, the Borders and Mid-Wales buck the trend and enable to old cause to hang on? Hard to believe. Yes, the Scottish election will be about Scotland and the Welsh election about Wales. For this generation of Liberal Democrats, however, the question is whether they will simply mark a point of no return.”

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