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Clegg lays into Labour (and Boris lays into Clegg)

By Peter Hoskin
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If you believe that David Cameron’s likeliest route back to No.10 in 2015 is another coalition with the Lib Dems, then then the past fortnight may have been rather perturbing.

Reason being, there are increasing signs of unity between Labour and the Lib Dems. Of course, the two parties appear to be split—between a 10p tax rate and raising the personal allowance—on the best way of lightening the tax burden on low-income workers. But, apart from that, they have basically coalesced in their response to Oliver Letwin’s Royal Charter for press regulation and in their demands for a mansion tax.

And Labour are even trying to smoke out Lib Dem support for their mansion tax proposal with an Opposition Day debate in the Commons, or perhaps even—as the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman reports—an amendment to the Financial Bill after the Budget. This crude politicking has left Vince Cable, for one, cooing and flirting. He won’t be the only Lib Dem who feels some attraction towards Labour at the moment.

But there remains a major impediment to any LibLab love-in: the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg. Even though relations between Mr Clegg and Ed Miliband are said to have thawed recently, it’s still true that—as I’ve suggested before—he is a more natural bedfellow for the Tories than for Labour. And he went some way towards proving it again today, during his weekly appearance on LBC radio. His caustic remarks about Labour (and their mansion tax plans) were not unusual for him, but they’re noteworthy in this current atmosphere. Here they are:

“Labour’s playing games. We’ve been waiting two years for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to come up with some ideas of their own on the economy, and indeed to apologise to the British people for the mess they created. And suddenly, out of the blue, they indulge in a bit of blatant plagiarism … no ideas of their own, and still no expression of expression of remorse about what they’ve done wrong.

In addition, they’ve linked their sudden, Johnny-come-lately conversion to the cause of a mansion tax to the introduction of a 10p tax rate … remember that’s the one that Gordon Brown, and indeed Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, abolished in the first place. We, of course, are doing much better than that. We’re delivering a 0p rate by raising the point at which you pay income tax, which is our flagship tax policy which we’re actually delivering to people.

To be honest, Labour is game-playing. I’ve no idea what they want to do in Parliament … I think it just makes them look bereft of their own ideas, and I still think they haven’t got that they are responsible for … Remember, it was Ed Balls who went on the prawn cocktail charm offensive to the City of London, sucking up to the banks, letting them get away with blue murder, which created the problems—or much of the problems—in the first place.

Until they acknowledge their responsibility for what they did wrong, I just don’t think that people are going to take very seriously their game-playing on a policy here and there – much of which appears not to be their own ideas in the first place.”

This, generally, is why I wouldn’t advise Tories to follow Boris’s lead in saying that Mr Clegg’s “single contribution to politics has been to do a U-turn on tuition fees and make a song about it” – which is what the Mayor of London did in Eastleigh today. I know, I know: that’s a by-election, where blows will be struck below the belt, and Boris probably wasn’t being entirely serious anyway. But, y’know, Clegg could one day be all there is in the way of Ed Miliband and Vince Cable governing the country.

Besides, wasn’t it the Mayor of London who recently implored us to “save the Cleggster”?