“In government, a thorn in the Tories’ side” – James Landale’s alternative Lib Dem conference slogan

by Stephen Tall on September 17, 2011

‘In Government On Your Side’ is the official slogan of the Lib Dems’ autumn conference, which officially starts today. But the BBC’s James Landale has proposed an alternative – and I’m rather taken with it:

In government, a thorn in the Tories’ side

The suggestion comes in his pre-conference assessment here. It’s a fair-minded take that recognises the bruising year the Lib Dems have endured, but also acknowledges why the mood in Birmingham will be more upbeat than much of the media was probably expecting (or hoping). And for two very good reason, which are (in order of importance, I think):

They believe they are making a difference: The Lib Dems tested the coalition to the limit by driving through many of the changes to Andrew Lansley’s health reforms. They are resisting Conservative ambitions to scrap the 50p top rate of tax. They are holding up Conservative attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act. They have secured the abolition of control orders. Their much loved pupil premium is being paid out to deprived schools. They claim they have tweaked Michael Gove’s policy on free schools to make sure they are not just for middle-class parents. They have kept up the pressure on George Osborne to cut tax for the lowest paid. They have a green investment bank.

They are winding up the Tories: Last year Conservative and Labour MPs mocked Nick Clegg as a patsy, a “mini-me” riding on the coat-tails of David Cameron. Now they moan that he is the tail that is wagging the dog. The Daily Mail has anointed Mr Clegg as “the most dangerous politician in Britain”. Nothing is more encouraging for a Liberal Democrat than to read how much their ministers are punching above their weight. Their conference slogan is “In government, on your side.” It could equally be: “In government, a thorn in the Tories’ side.”

It’s a good, succinct assessment — and chimes with an astute article by Steve Richards in the Independent noting how (at least in terms of government influence in the short-term) losing the alternative vote referendum has enabled Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems to assert themselves in government in the last four months:

… for the first time in decades they command attention and wield power. Clegg makes history in a nerve-wracking narrative that will last longer than many expected, however uncertain and potentially grim the ending might still be. He is still standing rather than tottering, an achievement in the stormy brew of coalition politics.

(Though I question the long-term truth of Mr Richards’ concluding sentence: ‘Losing the referendum was the best possible outcome for Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.’)