Why Nick Clegg can’t escape his “original sin”

Lib Dems have spent the last week articulating their new strategy of "differentiation". But new polling shows the party can't escape their original sin on fees, cuts, and VAT.

Nick Clegg

Will Straw is speaking today at a debate at the Institute for Government on ‘The Coalition One Year On’

Liberal Democrats have spent the last week articulating their new strategy of “differentiation“. But new polling by Populus for the Institute for Government (IfG) to mark the anniversary of the coalition suggests that the public already understand the difference between the two parties and the influence that Lib Dems are having on the overall coalition programme. The problem they have is the Lib Dems’ acquiescence on key policies such as spending cuts, tuition fees, and NHS reform.

Since the local elections last week, Liberal Democrats have talked about a more “business-like” coalition. Nick Clegg said yesterday that his party should be:

“more assertive about our different positions on certain issues … In the next phase of the coalition, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities … You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government.”

Lib Dems have also been keen to show the impact that they’d already been having. In his op ed for the Observer, Lib Dem President, Tim Farron was keen to stress that, “75% of the Lib Dem manifesto is in the coalition agreement, as opposed to only 60% of the Tory manifesto”. Danny Alexander made the same point at a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on Monday.

But the IfG poll finds that the public already accepts these claims. Only 28% believe that “there is no difference between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in terms of their views on the most important policy questions” while close to half the population (44%) accept that “Liberal Democrats have had a significant influence on government policy as a result of forming a coalition with the Conservatives”. Although a slightly higher number (50%) contest this view, a majority of men (+1), 18-24 year olds (+8), and pensioners (+8) accept the statement.

But while the public appear to accept that the Lib Dems were “right to join the coalition” (+9), they also believe that they “abadoned their principles” in doing so (+22). Specifically, they are angry aboutthe u-turns that Lib Dems have performed on the most important issues. As Rick Nye, Director of Populus, writes in his chapter in the IfG’s report:

“When it comes to judging the impact that Liberal Democrats have made on specific Coalition policies, in every sphere tested more think that the Liberal Democrats have failed to exert significant influence over the Coalition than think they have in fact exercised significant influence. On NHS reforms (−27%), university funding and tuition fees (−37%) and tax and spending decisions (−17%) large majorities think they haven’t had had influence. Only in the area of constitutional reform (−3%), Nick Clegg’s personal policy responsibility, do the numbers thinking the Liberal Democrats have had influence even approach those who believe the opposite.”

The critical point that the Lib Dems don’t seem to understand or accept is that their predicament is due not to the fact of the coalition but to their u-turns. The moral certainty taken during the election on tuition fees, VAT rises, and spending cuts was dropped as soon as the prospect of a ministerial car and red box were dangled in front of their noses. They could have drawn red lines on these policies rather than electoral reform. Nick Clegg described the coalition agreement as his “original sin“. It seems the public agree.

13 Responses to “Why Nick Clegg can’t escape his “original sin””

  1. Will Straw

    Differentiation wont work. New poll shows Clegg's "original sin" on cuts, VAT & fees is why they're so unpopular. //bit.ly/lhl1MY

  2. Wes Streeting

    “@wdjstraw: New poll shows Clegg's "original sin" on cuts, VAT & fees is why they're so unpopular. //t.co/ou2ZQ7z” < great piece

  3. Darren Burgoyne

    RT @wesstreeting: “@wdjstraw: New poll shows Clegg's "original sin" on cuts, VAT & fees is why they're so unpopular. //t.co/ou2ZQ7z

  4. joe soap

    RT @wesstreeting: “@wdjstraw: New poll shows Clegg's "original sin" on cuts, VAT & fees is why they're so unpopular. //t.co/ou2ZQ7z

  5. Alice Pearse

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why Nick Clegg can't escape his "original sin" //bit.ly/lhl1MY by @wdjstraw

  6. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why Nick Clegg can't escape his "original sin" //bit.ly/lhl1MY by @wdjstraw

  7. Andrew Grant

    RT @wesstreeting: “@wdjstraw: New poll shows Clegg's "original sin" on cuts, VAT & fees is why they're so unpopular. //t.co/ou2ZQ7z

  8. Ash

    The trouble is, the Lib Dems chose to dig their heels in over the wrong policies: the big ‘concessions’ they got out of the Tories were a cut in income tax that the Tories already supported in principle (not surprisingly), and a referendum the Tories were able to win by country mile. On the things that really matter to people, meanwhile – tuition fees, the NHS, spending cuts – it all seems to be going the Tories’ way.

    (…though I must say I suspect the Lib Dems’ support for the NHS reforms represents about as genuine a ‘concession’ as the Tories’ support for cutting income tax. David Laws and his Orange Book chums make Andrew Lansley look like Nye Bevan.)

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Will Straw – Original sin? Please. Nick Clegg has attained a position of deputy Prime Minister that Ed Miliband can only dream of.

    Politicians are in the business of governing the country – ask your dad. Without being in government they cannot implement the very things they went into politics for.

    Clegg had no choice and judging by the inability of the Labour Party to get a decent lead in the polls may I suggest that you may be better spending your time helping the Labour Party and being positive instead of being negative about the government all the time.

    I assumed you would have taken a lead in the reinvention of the Labour Party Will Straw because if more measured individuals like yourself don’t then Labour will be hijacked by the likes of Kevin Meagher, Ben Fox and other unattractive tribal types and all that will do is keep them in opposition.

    Please start being positive about Labour for goodness sake – this is bonkers…

  10. Ed's Talking Balls

    I don’t see your point on tuition fees and the VAT rise.

    Sure, the Lib Dems could have tried to make these ‘lines in the sand’ (certainly they’re more important than trivial, expensive referenda about how we vote) but they wouldn’t have gone into negotiations with any leverage.

    It’s not as if Clegg could have said: ‘if you don’t agree to these compromises, we’ll go into coalition with Labour and the fringe parties’.

    Firstly, the maths was always against that strategy. It would have required impeccable discipline in every vote and I just don’t think it would have worked. Quite right, too. As you say in the article, most agree that the Lib Dems were right to govern with the Conservatives: it would have been a scandal had Clegg saved Labour’s discredited skin.

    Secondly, Clegg could hardly have been sure of securing Labour’s agreement on these issues. Labour, like the Tories, was committed to the Browne Review and would have put up fees, and as for the VAT rise, all parties were telling porkies. I am absolutely certain that all of them would have bumped it up to 20%. That’s why, when pressed on it during the campaign, neither Osborne, Darling nor Cable would say, unequivocally, that they wouldn’t fiddle with VAT. Even politicians like to avoid telling outright lies, but silence can be telling.

  11. Gary Jameson

    If only one or more senior members of the shadow cabinet would have the bottle to tell it how it is then the sham of the coalition would be properly exposed and the government would fall. Clegg and Cable et al insist that the savage cuts etc are vital to “saving Britain’s economy” – one simple question – If the police cuts, tuition fees etc were vital just a few days after the election then why weren’t they vital just a few days before the election and included in the Clegg manifesto? The answer of course is simple – the LibDems had no idea that they even stood a chance of government in any form and so were able to include in their manifesto things that would appeal to many new and existing voters without ever having the need to actually implement them. Got that one wrong Cleggy !

  12. Look Left – One week on from the referendum, one year on from the coalition | Left Foot Forward

    […] Straw, however, wrote on Left Foot Forward that the Liberal Democrat leader could not escape his “original […]

  13. Daniel Pitt

    Why Nick Clegg can't escape his "original sin" //bit.ly/lhl1MY #ConDemNation

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