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8/100 Clegg and the Orange Bookers #TheRight100

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Clegg Nick Green B:G

Both Cameron and Clegg made their parties more liberal. The changes Cameron made always received more attention but Clegg restored his own party's liberal and reforming traditions. Under his predecessors, the social democratic and Labour-leaning traditions within the party had become dominant. Paddy Ashdown had explicitly described the Liberal Democrats as a party of the Left. He, and Kennedy and Campbell after him, yearned for an alliance with Labour. Clegg moved the party on from this and built on one of the most important collections of essays in modern British politics - Paul Marshall's Orange Book.

For the Orange Book Liberal Democrats privatisation, public service reform and fiscal conservatism were not swear words. They were unhappy with the status quo and felt that centralised producer interests within the state often acted against the interests of consumers and local communities.

Although more left-leaning Liberal Democrats, including Vince Cable, contributed to the Orange Book, the reality is that the true believing Orange Bookers are very small in number. Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Jeremy Browne and David Laws have enjoyed as disproportionate influence on their party as David Cameron, George Osborne, Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin have had on the Conservative Party. There aren't many true Cameroons and there aren't many true Orange Bookers but both have dominated their parties.

The big question for the future of the Coalition is whether the Orange Bookers will continue to enjoy the upper hand. At the start of the alliance between the two parties the Liberal Democrats played the role that David Laws has advocated for them. They were a motor in the government and, for example, strengthened the Tory Right's hand in favour of taking the low-paid out of income tax and Iain Duncan Smith's case for welfare reform. More recently the Orange Bookers have been struggling to overcome the default instincts of their party. Every survey of the Liberal Democrat membership suggests a strong left-wing bias and as the likes of Cable, Farron, Hughes and Huhne jockey for internal positions they are pulling the party and the Coalition to the Left.
Ask Tory ministers about Alexander, Browne, Clegg, Davey, Laws and, perhaps surprisingly, Webb and they swoon. These provide the motors for reform. On the other side sit the brakes - Ming Campbell, Evan Harris and Shirley Williams. The fight for the soul of the Liberal Democrats has probably only just begun.