Category Archives: Liberal Democrats
After three years of Tory-Lib Dem coalition, our economy remains in the doldrums, performing much worse than that of the US, where President Obama has achieved a deal of stimulus despite obstruction by Congress. We have a health service under increasing pressure and sliding with government encouragement into private hands; we have education being planned by the whim of a secretary of state whose latest wheeze is schools run by army officers; we have a welfare state re-engineered to produce homelessness, hardship and ever-growing child poverty.
Small wonder that more than 60% of the electorate disapprove of what this government is doing and want them gone, though how that will pan out in seats in the parliament to be elected in 2015 is uncertain. It is possible that the arithmetic might allow for the Labour-Lib Dem coalition that Martin Kettle is now advocating (Comment, 23 May), but politically at this moment the Lib Dems are part of the problem – they have voted solidly for every one of those Tory measures – and not part of the solution.
Is a politics in which the Lib Dems spend five years in alliance with the Tories demolishing the welfare state and the next five years in alliance with Labour rebuilding it for real? Either they believe in what they have been voting for or they don’t; and in either case, what credence can be put in them post-2015? The illusion that the Lib Dems are a progressive party is one that Martin Kettle has been peddling for years, but with Nick Clegg recommitting to the coalition with David Cameron to the bitter end, it should surely be clear even to him it has reached its sell-by date.
Following Woolwich attack, Labour peers Lord West and Lord Reid call for Nick Clegg to revive ‘snooper’s charter’ bill
Political pressure is mounting to revive the communications data bill in the wake of the Woolwich attack, with Labour peers Lord West and Lord Reid leading calls for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to drop their opposition to the legislation. West said Clegg was putting the country at risk.
Clegg hailed a major political victory when he prevented the draft bill being allowed into the Queen’s speech. The home secretary, Theresa May, had hoped she had changed the bill sufficiently from its original format to win the deputy prime minister’s support, and even when the bill did not feature in the Queen’s speech, she refused to accept that it had been killed off.
Reid, the former Labour home secretary, said such measures were essential to combating terrorism, and warned it could otherwise take “some huge tragedy” to show the decision was wrong.
Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat and a former government reviewer of counter-terrorism, reiterated his call for the bill to be revived.
He said on BBC’s Newsnight on Wednesday: “We have to learn proportionate lessons from what has occurred. We mustn’t rush to judgment. But we must ensure that the police and the security services have for the future the tools they need that will enable them to prevent this kind of attack taking place.
“I hope that this will give the government pause for thought about their abandonment, for example, of the communications data bill, and possibly pause for thought about converting control orders into what are now called TPIMs, with a diluted set of powers.”
Lord West, a former first sea lord and security minister under Gordon Brown, said: “The communications data bill is absolutely crucial. We may find the information we need on these mobiles is not there. It was meant to be in the Queen’s speech. David Cameron and the home secretary both quite rightly wanted it, but the deputy prime minister said no and that is putting the country at risk.
“They need to look again at the bill, which has a lot of changes to stop it being a snoopers’ charter. This ability is something that exists now, and will disappear. I have no doubt that if it goes we will be more at risk, so the deputy prime minister is, I believe, putting the country at risk.”
The former Labour home secretary Jack Straw called for the intelligence and security committee to inquire into whether the communications bill was needed in light of the attack.
He said: “We need to know whether it would have made any difference. I don’t know. I don’t think John Reid knows. You have got to make sure that the proposals are proportionate”.
He said the murder was an act of “stone-age savagery”.
Asked whether the government may respond to the Woolwich killing by resurrecting the communications data bill, the faith and communities minister, Baroness Warsi, told BBC Radio 4′s World at One: “I’m sure people will analyse how things could be done better and I’m sure people will have a lessons-learnt exercise.
“But I think the wrong way to make legislation is on the back of a tragedy like this. It isn’t the moment to start looking at the kind of legislation we should or should not have. I’m sure at some point it will play into the debate.”
There was no immediate response from the Liberal Democrats, but Clegg’s officials had previously said they were willing to look at some residual changes to make sure all mobiles were linked to IP addresses. It was not clear whether this required primary legislation.
Currently, police can identify who has made a telephone call or sent an SMS text message, and when and where. However, they cannot do the same for email, internet telephony, instant messaging or other internet-based services because communications service providers don’t retain all of the relevant data.
Notes attached to the Queen’s speech hinted that the security services still had ambitions to extend the willingness of the Liberal Democrats to link mobiles to internet providers. The notes said: “When communicating over the internet, people are allocated an IP address. However, these addresses are generally shared between a number of people.
“In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them.”
The government said it was looking at ways of addressing the issue with service providers and that this may involve new legislation.
Telling Conservatives to stop playing games is rich from someone distracting the coalition from addressing the deficit
Nick Clegg’s lecture to Conservative MPs was far from helpful. His instruction that we should stop playing games about the EU and concentrate on “boosting business, creating jobs, helping with the cost of living” is especially rich coming from a Lib Dem who has promoted policies of dear energy for years.
The coalition rightly stated at its outset that the overriding objective was to get the deficit down. Conservatives proposed a major slimming of government itself, cutting the overhead and cost of administration. To lead this, we proposed removing 50 MP posts. Surely if we are going to tell the public sector to do more with less, we had to show that we could do that ourselves by raising MP productivity. Clegg has now voted that down, showing that he and his party have no wish to provide leadership by showing how we can cut our costs.
Clegg has also been the leading exponent of diverting the coalition away from its vital tasks of curbing the deficit and promoting growth. He forced upon the coalition the idea of an AV referendum. Conservative MPs gave him his way and voted for the referendum. The British people rightly rejected the whole idea of AV. It was a big diversion of political and government energy. It was another needless public spending cost.
Then Clegg decided to divert us all by trying for his version of Lords reform. The Conservative manifesto had said we would see if there was a consensus for some reform, recognising it could only be done with cross-party agreement and with the agreement of the Lords. Clegg failed to secure the Lords agreement or the agreement of Conservative backbenchers. He rejected wise advice from Lib Dem peers to reform tenure, retirement and conditions of peers’ jobs. He instead went for a reform that was never going to pass the Lords. It ended in tears after further diversion of political and government effort.
Conservatives who press the government on the EU do so over issues like migration and energy prices which are very relevant to the central economic task that concerns most voters. What is Clegg’s excuse for his diversions from these matters? And how does he explain his refusal to put through a major freedom bill at the start of the parliament, when he had Conservatives egging him on to do so? Why couldn’t we have enjoyed a great package of more civil liberties and more economic freeedoms, as part of the recovery of our nation?
• This article first appeared on johnredwoodsdiary.com and is republished here with permission
John Kerry seeks support for British-led move as means of pressuring Bashar al-Assad to enter into peace negotiations
The United States is lobbying European governments to back a British-led call to amend the EU arms embargo on Syria to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to enter into talks with the opposition.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has been urging the EU to reach consensus on a change that would allow weapons to be delivered to the rebels – though without any decision to do so at this stage.
Diplomatic sources said on Wednesday that Britain now has the support of France, Italy and Spain, while Germany is neutral. But Austria, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are still opposed. Ambassadors of all 27 EU members have been called into the state department in Washington to be told of the latest US position ahead of a crucial foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels next Monday.
Speaking in Jordan on Wednesday, Kerry pledged publicly that the US and its EU allies would step up support for Syrian opposition forces to help them “fight for the freedom of their country” if Assad does not engage in talks with the rebels in good faith. Efforts are under way, with Russian backing, to convene a peace conference in Geneva some time in June.
In Britain, however, plans to amend the EU embargo are being complicated by disagreements between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and a row in Whitehall about the risks of supplying weapons to rebels fighting Assad’s regime.
William Hague, the foreign secretary, who is with Kerry in Amman to discuss Syria, made clear the UK wants to alter the embargo to put pressure on Assad, but without yet deciding to send any weapons. Options include an amendment to allow weapons to be supplied to the opposition Syrian National Coalition or removal of the word “non-lethal” from the text. Another possibility is a short rollover of the embargo, which expires on 1 June, to see if the Geneva talks have any prospect of success – or deadlock. If there is no agreement the ban will lapse. That leaves open the possibility of unilateral decisions to supply arms, though in the UK that could clearly trigger a coalition crisis.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, faces strong differences inside his own party. “There is a fallacy in the government position,” Menzies Campbell, the senior Lib Dem foreign affairs expert, told the Guardian. “It is said that the purpose of giving more sophisticated weapons to the rebels is to send a message to Assad but his regime is so heavily supported by the Russians that if there was any imbalance Moscow would be bound to redress it.”
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said that David Cameron had allowed speculation to build about the government’s willingness to veto the EU embargo. “But how would the government prevent British-supplied weapons falling into the wrong hands?” he asked. “How does supplying weapons help to secure a lasting peace?”
The rebels and their supporters say the embargo must be lifted to help the anti-Assad camp resist overwhemingly superior Syrian government forces, which are equipped with tanks, aircraft and missiles and are supplied by Russia and Iran.
Labour says that regardless of the status of the embargo, any weapons deliveries would breach other EU and UN agreements that are binding on the UK.
Whitehall sources say the national security council, which is chaired by the prime minister, has “grave concerns” about the risk that weapons could fall into “the wrong hands”, amid concern about the growing strength and prominence of jihadi-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida.
Alistair Burt, the foreign office minister for the Middle East, told MPs on Tuesday night: “There are no guarantees, but over time we have established a series of links with moderate groups who would have no vested interest in allowing equipment that might be used against them to fall into the wrong hands.” Hague said on Monday that the UK could supply arms “only in carefully controlled circumstances, and with very clear commitments from the opposition side”. Some arrangements would “necessarily be confidential.”
Fighters with the Free Syrian Army, the mainstream rebel group, are being vetted in Jordan, where UK special forces and MI6 officers are believed to be involved. The CIA has reportedly been involved in training and coordinating arms deliveries from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
Information about the vetting process is shrouded in secrecy, but Hague said in a written parliamentary answer last week: “We are in close contact with the leadership of the Syrian National Coalition and Supreme Military Command Council in order to identify training beneficiaries that meet our criteria for the Law of Armed Conflict training. To ensure that the recipients of the training are legitimate members of the opposition all beneficiaries are carefully screened before they are invited to attend the training.”
The fragmentation of rebel groups, the lack of a centralised command structure, the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers and human rights abuses are all sources of concern. The recent incident in which a rebel commander in Homs was filmed eating the heart or lung of a dead government soldier caused widespread revulsion.
The Syrian National Coalition released a video yesterday entitled “Fighter not a Killer” — a YouTube and TV advert about the norms of international humanitarian law and human rights law. “In light of the recent events that have occurred within the Free Syrian Army, we felt that it is imperative to outline and educate what is acceptable and what is not,” said a spokesman, Khaled Saleh.
Oxfam also issued a warning against lifting the embargo: “Sending arms to the Syrian opposition won’t create a level playing field,” it said in a statement. “Instead, it risks further fuelling an arms free-for-all where the victims are the civilians of Syria. Our experience from other conflict zones tells us that this crisis will only drag on for far longer if more and more arms are poured into the country.”An estimated 80,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. Millions have fled their homes inside Syria or become refugees abroad.
Deputy PM reproaches alma mater as MPs urge companies to withdraw work placements from fee-paying school’s auction
Nick Clegg has backed complaints about a prestigious private school’s auction of exclusive work experience placements for its students.
A group of MPs have written to participants including Coutts bank, Fabergé and the high street retail guru Mary Portas asking them to withdraw their placements from an online auction at Westminster school, where Clegg was once a pupil.
The auction, described by one MP as “grotesque”, is expected to raise thousands of pounds for the school, which charges annual fees of more than £21,000.
The letter, signed by seven Labour and Lib Dem MPs including the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, and the former secretary of state Hazel Blears, condemns the 15 organisations offering the placements for “explicitly favouring privilege“.
Clegg also signalled his disapproval at the behaviour of his alma mater. A spokesman for the deputy prime minister told the Guardian: “Nick Clegg believes that internships should be made available on a fair and open basis to talented young people from all backgrounds, not just those who have the right connections.”
Current bids for the placements average hundreds of pounds, with one of the highest at £825 for one or two weeks’ work experience with a criminal defence barrister in London.
In 2011 the Conservative party faced flak for auctioning off internships at its Black and White ball to raise money for party coffers.
In their letter the MPs say: “Many have worked hard and secured a good education, only to find that the jobs market demands lengthy periods of work experience, without which they cannot find a job.
“By offering opportunities solely on the basis of wealth, you are explicitly favouring privilege, and excluding the vast majority of young people who don’t have the financial support or family connections that those at Westminster school already have.”
Portas, a government adviser, has come in for special criticism for offering a week’s work experience at her communications company. The Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, said: “It’s grotesque for Westminster school to be auctioning internships for hundreds of pounds, especially when many young people can only dream of having this sort of opportunity.
“It’s very disappointing that Mary Portas, a government retail adviser, is allowing a one-week placement at her company to be sold to the highest bidder. Young people shouldn’t have to work for free to get on in life. This appalling case shows why we need to ensure interns are always properly paid.”
Gus Baker, of the campaign group Intern Aware, who drafted the letter, said the companies involved should be “absolutely ashamed of what they’re doing”.
“It’s another huge leg up,” he said, for the children of the rich “to be invited into an investment bank, an architects firm, to be part of a small network. These industries will just become the preserve of those who have significant amounts of money.”
The auction, which opened at the start of May, is due to close on Wednesday night. Westminster school was not available for comment but has said the money raised from the auction will go towards its new capital projects and bursary programme.
Five grassroots members tell us how they’re treated, following the reported ‘swivel-eyed loons’ remark about Tory party activists
Michael Clarke (Conservative): ‘Grassroots opinion is listened to and translated into policy’
My experience as a constituency chairman is that the Conservative party is good at seeking members’ views and it listens. That is not to say that the view expressed will be reflected in policy decisions taken, because it will depend on whether those views are in a majority or minority of those canvassed. That is the nature of a democratic party.
The Conservative Political Forum is a policy group, which is constituency based and meets regularly to discuss policy proposals. The papers are collated in London and the results communicated to cabinet ranking ministers. A response is then received from that minister. On contentious issues such as policy on Europe, there always will be differences of opinion. Listening to grassroots opinion does not always translate into one particular view prevailing. But the question of whether the Conservative party nationally listens to what its members are saying at grassroots level is a no brainer. It would quickly become detached from reality and lose its grassroots workers if no consideration was given to their views.
Allegations that the Conservative party is “out of touch” needs qualification. That means there is no communication, that we are cut off from high command. I would assert that in the vast majority of policy areas grassroots opinion is listened to – and translated into Conservative policy. The exception is European policy and the speed at which we hold a referendum over whether this country should remain a full member of the EU. Put this issue in its right context of all the other policies and it is one of perhaps a dozen key areas of policy.
The whole same-sex marriage furore is, like capital punishment or abortion, essentially a social rather than a political issue. It is an irritant to many Conservatives, who oppose same sex marriage but hardly an issue which will determine the votes of more than handful of people in May 2015.
• Michael Clarke is chairman of Northampton South Conservative Association
John Burnell (Labour): ‘We have learned to follow our leaders’
Don’t let anyone kid you that there was ever a golden age when party leaders followed every diktat of their members – the memoirs of Labour leaders will tell you that, at best, they vaguely took into account what the party was thinking before turning back to what they could achieve in the Westminster realpolitik bubble.
But the disconnect has grown ever wider since the mass media developed the power and desire to dictate the political agenda rather than just report it. Our leaders know very well that they can ignore the wishes of a few members, while a clanger dropped on Newsnight or an overheard soundbite can cause a scandal. That whole process is exacerbated by a professionalisation of national politics, with its participants moving seamlessly from politics graduate, intern, special adviser to being parachuted into a safe seat.
So we have learned to follow our leaders, not formulate policy for them. Even within the so-called democratic Labour party, that imperative exists, and it’s not helped by the generally poor quality of local members’ contribution to the thought process, concerned as many of them are with making some impact sitting on their council seats with ever-diminishing authority, and with as many personal differences as there are political perspectives. Parliamentarians must breathe a sigh of relief that they’re not in that pond any more – although Labour MPs are wise enough not to call their members swivel-eyed loons.
So why do I carry on, day in and day out, delivering leaflets, attending meetings and banging my head against the nearest wall? Because after 47 years of continuous membership and a merit award for distinguished service signed by Ed Miliband, I still believe that at the margins, small things do make a difference. If 1,000 leaflets delivered in a marginal constituency produce just one extra Labour vote, that might just tip the balance and secure the one extra seat we need to ensure this god-awful government is thrown out and replaced with one that shares at least some of my values.
• John Burnell is a Stevenage constituency Labour party member
Caroline Russell (Green): ‘Policy is developed and decided by members’
I came to the Green party through engagement with community campaigning, in particular speaking out for better streets for walking and cycling. I was impressed by the way that elected Greens, like Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson on the London Assembly, were prepared to stand up for policies that challenge populist assumptions about the role of vehicles in our city, such as a 20mph speed limit on shopping streets.
After joining in 2009, it was striking to discover how the party functions: there are no influential corporate donors, few staff and little spare cash to fund any kind of elaborate party machine. Policy is developed and discussed by members and is decided by members at conference.
This open policy-making process is underpinned by a common understanding that we have a finite set of resources and no spare planet waiting in the background to be plundered when we’ve used everything up.
So, among Green party activists, the answer to the question “do you feel your party listens to you?” has to be yes. But that depends on understanding that the party is its members and its members are the party.
• Caroline Russell is a Green party activist in Islington, north London
Mathew Hulbert (Liberal Democrat): ‘The coalition has caused us to question who owns the party and its message’
From a Liberal Democrat perspective the answer to this question comes in two parts.
Yes, we remain the most democratic political party. Our annual conferences – and, therefore, us, the grassroots members and activists – continue to make party policy and, a good deal of the time, this is is what forms government policy.
However, all is not rosy in the yellow part of the coalition rose garden. Our being listened to is, to say the least, imperfect. Examples include the conference’s refusal to debate the economy, despite many of us feeling we need a plan B or, rather, the Plan C put forward by the Social Liberal Forum. Also, the votes of 11 of our MPs in the equal marriage debate – to allow registrars, public servants paid for by the public purse, to be able to refuse to marry a gay couple on “conscience” grounds. For a party which has done so much on LGBT equality, this was deeply disappointing.
And, if I’m honest, the gap between ordinary members and the party leadership/ministers appears to be growing. The coalition has forced many members to question who really has ownership of the party and its message. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we can be “listened at” but not “listened to”. Ministers are present at a meeting with members and activists but you wonder if they’re actually taking in what you say.
We can have good access, but little actual influence.
For me, one way to help try and gain this influence is being a member of the Social Liberal Forum, a pressure group within the party.
Our leadership must never forget that the party is not them, not our MPs, but, rather, our membership – activists, councillors and members. They must reconnect with us – and soon.
• Mathew Hulbert is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Leicestershire
Star Etheridge (Ukip): ‘I went from member to spokeswoman on disability in 18 months’
I’ve been a member of Ukip since March 2011. I’m just a normal activist like many others. At the autumn conference in 2012 I approached the party chairman, Steve Crowther, to ask what the party proposed for disabled people, like myself.
There were a fair few disabled people at the gala dinner so I thought it was an ideal time to ask the question.
He said the current policies needed updating and that he’d come back to me. I thought that would be the very last I’d hear of it as I am a mere grassroots member and policy is always done by the senior members, or so I thought.
Two months later he emailed me suggesting that I write a proposal for the social policy group, which also covered disability. I was surprised and delighted to be able to use my personal experience to write the proposal.
I duly wrote the proposal and sent it off. I heard nothing for a while. In January I was linked up to the rest of the social policy team and we began discussing my policy ideas.
In March, at our spring conference, I was invited to and gave my first ever public political speech to present my ideas, which was very well received and since then I have been formulating the policy proposal so that the NEC can adopt it. I have been allocated the role of disability spokeswoman.
So yes I do feel my party does listen to me, from member to spokeswoman in 18 months is truly remarkable and I never thought such things could happen.
• Star Etheridge is a Ukip member
Lib Dem leader warns Conservative party not to shift rightwards to appease Ukip voters as PM defends Tory tactics and policies
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have vowed the coalition will last the full five-year term, as the deputy prime minister urged the Conservatives not to shift right in a doomed bid to head off Ukip.
Clegg warned Tory MPs off “arcane, shrill and tongue-twisting manoeuvres in parliament”, saying it distracted the public from the government’s main goal of sorting out the economy.
Speaking at a press conference in Westminster, Clegg told the Conservatives they were wasting their time trying to stir up a leadership crisis in his own party, but admitted long-term differences between the two parties over Europe would continue.
He also said he wanted to see action on a register for lobbyists at Westminster and indicated that the Tories had opposed its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech.
Insisting he was confident of his place in the coalition, he said: “Anyone who is wargaming about what may or may not happen in my party is wasting their time. I am going to be leader of this party up to, through and beyond the next general election. The Liberal Democrats, despite all the predictions to the contrary, have proved to be the calmest, most resilient and most united party in British politics today.”
Cameron, pressed on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, whether the coalition would last the full five years, said: “That is absolutely my intention and has always been. To anyone who doubts what life there is left in the coalition, I would argue there is more to come – very bold reforming, and strong government, and that is what we’ll be right up until polling day.”
Clegg accepted it would be impossible to airbrush out differences within the coalition over Europe but said government ministers had a duty to show the public that it was focusing on the economy.
He said: “For the life of me I do not understand why people are tying themselves up in knots, changing and shifting the goalposts, given that we have given this clear legislative guarantee that there will be a referendum if there is a change in the UK relationship in the EU.”
He said “the position in the Conservative party on Europe is shifting and shifting fast” and challenged the Tories to explain why they had arbitrarily plucked out a date for a referendum in response to “not very much at all” .
But Cameron told Today that his plan to hold an EU referendum after 2015 “is not going to change”, no matter how much pressure he comes under from Europe and his own Conservative backbenchers.
He said: “On 24 January I set out a very clear, very compelling policy for the country towards Europe, which is to renegotiate our relationship with Europe, to make the European Union more open, competitive and flexible, and then to offer the British people something they haven’t had for decades – an in-out referendum. It’s a very clear, very decisive policy.
“Let me say, this policy, it doesn’t matter the pressure I come under from outside the Conservative party, or in Europe, or inside the Conservative party, this policy isn’t going to change. The question isn’t going to change. The number of referenda isn’t going to change. The date by which we hold this referendum isn’t going to change. The fact is, it’s the right policy for the country.”
The PM said he had the “boldest, clearest” policy of any party leader, and said the “substance” of his plan was backed by the vast majority of the British public.
“If you take the issue of Europe, I think there is actually incredible unity and agreement, not just in the Conservative party but, I would argue, across the country.
“That is the boldest, clearest, most straightforward policy on Europe that any party leader has had for 30 or 40 years. So it’s that sort of leadership, that sort of clarity that’s required.”
Cameron denied anybody around him regarded Conservative activists as “swivel-eyed loons”, and insisted he would be a Tory volunteer if he were not an MP. Clegg also confirmed he had never heard anyone in No 10 describe Conservative activists in that way.
Cameron said: “That is simply not the case. It’s not what I think. It’s not what the people around me think. I think sometimes the media have a view that there is a sort of complete disconnect between the politicians who stand for election and the volunteers who support us. I think that is just completely wrong.
“I think of the volunteers in my own constituency – they’re not just my friends and my supporters, I feel I’m one of them.”
But Clegg questioned whether the Tories were heading right under the pressure of Ukip. He said: “The Conservatives need to decide for themselves how they play their cards in response to the rise of Ukip. My observation is that if you constantly bang on about the things that Ukip want to bang on about, do not be surprised if you help Ukip. As a centrist liberal I don’t think there is any future in vacating the centre ground and going after either extremes in British politics.”
Cameron, too, suggested he was more willing to challenge, as opposed to ape, Ukip, telling Today that there was no future in “pulling up the drawbridge” and “looking backwards”.
He said: “Britain does best when we engage with the world, when we’re outward looking, and when we play to our strengths.”
Clegg denied the government had run out of ideas, but said come the next general election, he would set out as red lines the issues his party would not compromise in any future coalition negotiations.
He said: “We will have a duty in our manifesto to say what are the things we will die in the trenches for and what are the policies that by definition will be dependent on circumstances if you are in another coalition and who you are in government with.”
The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, says it is time for politicians to refocus their attention on the needs of the country and end the ‘rabbit-warrening’ of the past two weeks
PM says there is no split within party over Europe as Clegg tells off Tories for ‘game-playing’
David Cameron has insisted it is his “absolute intention” for the coalition to continue until the general election in 2015 and insisted there was no split within the Conservative party over Europe.
The prime minister’s comments came as his deputy, Nick Clegg, prepares to respond to recent rebellions by warning that he will not allow the coalition to be broken up early and telling the Tories to get back to governing from the centre and end the game-playing at Westminster.
Brushing off recent wrangles with the Tory right, amid the rise of Ukip, which saw 114 backbench Conservatives vote for an amendment regretting the absence of a commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe in the Queen’s speech, Cameron said the party was unified on the issue.
“On Europe, I think there is actually incredible unity and agreement, not just in the Tory party but across the country,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday. “The Conservative party managed to have a disagreement over the last couple of weeks over an issue we actually agree about.”
He said he remained committed to a referendum in 2017, rejecting the idea that it could be moved forward, as some Tory backbenchers would like. “It doesn’t matter the pressure I come under from Europe, or inside the Tory party, this policy isn’t going to change,” he said.
The prime minister has also come under pressure from the right of the party on his decision to press forward with legislation to legalise gay marriage, with 133 Conservative MPs, including two members of the cabinet, voting against the plans on Tuesday. Cameron said it was “right for Britain to take on this issue. I’m proud of the fact this legislation has passed the Commons … I think it’s important that we have this degree of equality, and I say this as a massive supporter of marriage.” But he insisted that those who opposed it were not bigoted and said the disagreement just reflected the fact that the Conservative party was a “broad church”. He offered a crumb of comfort to rightwingers, promising them that it would not be the start of a series of policies addressing similar concerns.
“Is this the first of many issues like that? No it isn’t,” he said. “The government is going to be absolutely focused on the big picture.”
The prime minister rejected the idea that the alleged remarks by the Conservative chairman Lord Feldman, who denies having described activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, were, whether actually spoken or not, an accurate account of how Tory grassroots activists were viewed by his inner circle. “That is simply not the case,” he said. “It’s not what I think. It’s not what the people around me think … I think of the volunteers in my own constituency, they’re not just my friends and my supporters, I’m one of them.”
Lib Dem leader is likely to infuriate Conservative rebels with speech insisting coalition will last until 2015
Nick Clegg will infuriate David Cameron’s restive backbenchers on Wednesday by insisting he will not allow the coalition to be broken up early and telling them it is time to get back to governing from the centre, and end the game-playing at Westminster.
His reading of the riot act to the Tory right is likely to be seen as the kind of slap-down to Cameron’s rebels that the prime minister himself feels too weak to administer because of the advance of Ukip.
The deputy prime minister will accuse Tory MPs of “disappearing into a parliamentary rabbit warren, obsessing over this new tactic or that new trick: paving legislation, enabling referendums, wrecking amendments”.
After two weeks of Conservative battles over a European referendum and gay marriage, Clegg will also admit that the past fortnight has seen the coalition lacking leadership, focus and an ability to govern.
On Tuesday night 133 Conservative MPs, among them the environment secretary Owen Paterson and the Welsh secretary David Jones, voted on a free vote against the coalition’s legislation to legalise gay marriage.
Clegg’s speech was shown to Conservative leaders on Tuesday night in advance, but in reality there was little Cameron could do to stop Clegg portraying his party as the adult, if junior, partner in the coalition relationship. He will insist the behaviour of the Tory right will have left the public bewildered, but will argue that he will not allow the coalition to be distracted from its main task of fixing the economy.
Clegg’s decision to lecture the Tory backbenchers and guarantee that the coalition will last until the general election in 2015 will infuriate the Tory rightwingers trying to engineer a break-up.
At the weekend Cameron speculated for the first time about the possibility of an early coalition break-up, but stressed this was not the aim, or his expectation. There have also been claims that No 10 is preparing contingency plans for an early break-up.
But at a hastily convened London press conference Clegg will defend the radicalism of the coalition, adding: “It still has work to do, and the best way for us to serve and improve Britain is by finishing what we started. To those voices who say that it will be in either, or both, parties’ interests to prematurely pull the plug: I couldn’t disagree more.
“In 2010 the British people dealt us this hand. And they will not forgive either party if we call time ahead of the election that has been legislated for in 2015 – destabilising the nation in the vague hope of short-term political gain.”
He will also express his exasperation that at the point at which the country is facing the “most profound economic challenge in living memory”, parliament is being clogged up by issues such as Europe and gay rights “simply because they cause the biggest political punch-ups”.
The public will think MPs have taken leave of their senses, he will say.
Clegg’s remarks may also frustrate to a lesser extent those Liberal Democrats warning that the party risks losing its identity if it does not do something dramatic to distance itself from a rightward-leaning Conservative party.
Clegg will contend there is no logic to ducking out early before the election, adding: “It is a nonsense to think such a move could suddenly win back those people who have never liked us going into government with the Conservatives.”
But Clegg will hint that the Lib Dems may be suffering collateral damage due to Tory in-fighting distracting from the coalition’s reform agenda. He will say: “Sincere policy debates and ideological differences are, and will continue to be, a part of coalition. But the parliamentary game-playing we’ve seen over the last few weeks discredits the importance of these issues, and it’s an unwelcome distraction.”
The two parties remain “two staunch opponents, working together to find answers to the most critical questions facing Britain today, pioneering major reforms that will stand the test of time”.
But faced by a Conservative party that seems to feel forced to head to the right in the face of the threat posed by Ukip, he will insist that, so long as he remains deputy prime minister, the government as a whole will not vacate the centre ground. Claiming Ed Miliband sees a new centre ground taking shape on the left, he will say: “Some Conservatives insist the centre of gravity has swung the other way. They seize on people’s reasonable concerns over things like immigration and welfare as proof the nation has shifted to the right. Yet in reality millions of people across Britain continue to shun the extremes of left.”He will admit that as the election nears there will be further tensions between the parties, and both leaders will be under increasing pressure to act in their parties’ interests as opposed to the national interest.
Clegg feels that the Conservatives have never reconciled themselves properly to the concept of coalition, partly because they were so sure they were going to win outright, and partly because the coalition deal was never put to any democratic forum of the Conservative party.
He will remind Tory MPs: “Whether you are the larger or smaller party, the fact is governing together in the public interest carries a cost. Making compromises; doing things you find uncomfortable; challenging some of your traditional support – these are the dilemmas the Conservatives are coming to terms with, just as my party has had to.”