What the Sunday papers say about Nick Clegg

by Stephen Tall on December 23, 2007

Today’s Times and Torygraph both carry generous copious coverage of the Lib Dems following Nick Clegg’s election as leader last Tuesday.

The Sunday Times lines up an out-of-her-depth Rosie Millard to quiz Nick – fortunately she quotes Nick extensively, which makes for more interesting reading than her insipid questions. Meanwhile, her ST colleague Simon Jenkins dusts off his perennial ‘the Lib Dems are pointless’ article for yet another airing, indulging in his favourite form of binary political reductionism:

If Clegg really means to be radical, then he must choose which radicalism. He must become more Labour than Labour or more Conservative than Conservative. In traditional terms, he must outflank one or other from their wings.

For an intelligent, liberal polemicist like Jenkins this is pretty desperate stuff; but, then, he has always had a blind spot when it comes to the Lib Dems, and it’s clear that’s never going to change. A shame, as he is one of the most eloquent exponents in favour of the decentralisation of public services as a means for breathing back life into Britain’s communities and public realm. But he seemingly cannot cope with the fact that the only political party which agrees with him is the one he simply cannot stick.

The Sunday Telegraph reveals Tory central office’s concerns about Nick’s election:

“Mr Cameron’s closest colleagues admitted privately just before Mr Clegg was declared leader last Tuesday that he was the result they most feared. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, told one MP that he regarded Mr Clegg as ‘not good for us’. He expressed the view that Mr Clegg would be very effective in challenging for Tory votes.”

The point is made that a duumvirate of Clegg and Cameron leaves Gordon Brown looking “old, tired and dated in comparison”. Which is true up to a point; it also gives him a USP that his younger, fresher but perhaps more inexperienced rivals cannot match. It’s impossible to know at this stage of the electoral cycle whether this will be a positive or a negative for Labour at the next general election.

In a companion piece, much is made of David Laws’ – who has been handed a roving public services’ coordinating brief by Nick – statement that 2008 will be the “year of living dangerously” for the Lib Dems: “For too long the party has not thought radically enough.”

On health, he revealed that the party was looking at plans to fund private treatment if the NHS kept patients waiting too long. “If a hospital doesn’t deliver the treatment within a reasonable period of time, say six months, the penalty they face is that the patient has the power to say ‘I’m taking that money’ and exit into the private sector, and the NHS will have an obligation to fund the whole private sector cost.” …

He said children in care might be better if the state funded them to attend private boarding schools. “There might be a minority of pupils where we could allow money to be taken out and used in the private sector. It might be a radical way to make a difference to their lives,” he said.

Interesting stuff that deserves to be debated by the party. Just a shame we have to wait for the leadership contest to be over before it can be deemed safe to think aloud.

Finally, the People carries a Q&A with Nick – nothing startling, though he does praise the “sporting genius” of Roger Federer and reveals what Christmas presents he’d buy Gordon and Dave:

“After Northern Rock, the PM needs basic lessons in finance, so I’d buy him Monopoly. Cameron needs a compass to help him work out what political direction he’s going in.”