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The Liberal Democrats tug hard at the Concession-O-Meter

Tim Montgomerie


It's been quite a while since my last thorough stock-take of who was winning the tug-o-war inside the Coalition.

Before I do a comprehensive update it's worth noting that there have been significant signs recently that the Liberal Democrats have been increasingly assertive inside the Coalition and that they are winning some important battles:

  • In a victory for Chris Huhne, an extra £2 billion for the Green Investment Bank was announced by George Osborne last week (despite the fact that Alternative Energy produces bottom-of-the-league returns);
  • An extra £70 million to replace the Educational Maintenance Allowance (for which Simon Hughes has claimed the credit);
  • The Orwellian-sounding Office for Fair Access will have been given real powers to ensure (as today's Mail puts it) "pupils from bad schools be given college places ahead of middle-class students with better grades";
  • The appointment of Anthony Lester, Phillippe Sands and Helena Kennedy (Labour peer) to the commission to investigate reform of human rights laws (appointments that will make serious reform very unlikely for the reasons explained by Fraser Nelson);
  • Imminent dilution of the Health Reforms (although many Tory MPs will welcome a gentler pace of reform here). 
Clegg on MarrClegg hasn't stopped there. Yesterday, on his way to Mexico, he signalled that onerous requirements on the nuclear industry might make it uneconomic. Britain's nuclear plants are already super-safe and a new generation of hi-tech nuclear plants would be even safer but the Lib Dems appear to want to kill the nuclear industry by imposing impossible costs on it.  We also have had, of course, the Vince Cable call for new property taxes.

The nuclear and other re-positioning may all be pre-election posturing. The Lib Dems are facing terrible results in May, as Jonathan detailed on Tuesday. What we are seeing, however, is an increasingly assertive yellow team. The language used yesterday by Chris Huhne towards Sayeeda Warsi was extraordinary:

"If Baroness Warsi thinks that AV will benefit fascism she has to explain why the BNP wants to stick with what we have and Operation Black Vote supports AV. The BNP know the present system is their only chance of election. This is another example of the increasingly Goebbels-like campaign from the anti-AV people, for whom no lie is too idiotic given the truth is so unpalatable to them. AV makes lazy MPs work harder and reach out beyond their tribe. It is what Britain needs to clean up politics."

Strong stuff.

The Coalition is still doing plenty of very important things that Conservatives can be very proud of. The budget eradication plan. Lower corporation tax. Welfare reform. A massive increase in the number of academies and the introduction of the English Baccalaueate. Over 100,000 extra apprenticeships. At the moment, however, with the Prime Minister focused on international affairs there are signs that in the weekly tug-o-war the Coalition is sadly fulfilling my law and drifting leftwards, inch-by-inch.

> Steve Richards lists examples of Lib Dem influence in his Independent column.


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