The verdict of Philip Collins, chief speech writer for Tony Blair, on Nick Clegg: “the Deputy Prime Minister should be applauded by all liberal voters”

by Stephen Tall on April 15, 2014

Nick Clegg Q&A 19Philip Collins uses his column in today’s Times to write something not often written on that paper’s pages (or anywhere else for that matter): praise for the Lib Dems in Coalition. Here’s the paywalled link, and here’s a glimpse behind the paywall of what he has to say:

It is therefore a serious defence of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to commend them for things that would have happened had they not been there. It is in the nature of things that have not happened that we often do not know what they are. The siren voices of the Tory Right though, tell the tale. They complain, as if the electorate had granted them a full victory, that the Lib Dems have prevented them from doing what Tories are born to do.

The list of complaints looks to me like a prospectus of liberal triumph and a record of negative capability to be proud of. Without the Lib Dems, say the malcontents, the government would have slashed green taxes harder. It would have made more progress towards abolishing human rights legislation. It would have had an even tougher stance on immigration, and the welfare cuts would have been even more severe. Tax cuts for the wealthy would, finally, have been more generous. In which case, all hail the Liberal Democrats. …

[Nick Clegg’s] liberal conviction is evident in what the coalition has done as well as what it has not. It was notable that, in his Budget speech, George Osborne made a lot of the Liberal Democrat policy of raising the threshold at which people pay income tax to £12,500. The instinct behind this policy is the liberal desire that people should keep more of the money they earn. More money has been channelled to poorer children via the premium offered to schools in disadvantaged areas. The Green Investment Bank awaits a chancellor who believes in it but it could yet become a significant reform. The welfare state in Britain used to depart with the health visitor and not come back into view until primary school. The Liberal Democrat emphasis on childcare has come out of Mr Clegg’s politically inexpedient but intellectually admirable emphasis on making social mobility an index of coalition success.

There you have it – a quick summary from Philip Collins of what I’m going to term the Lib Dems’ Two Concepts of Coalition:

Negative Coalition: Coalition in the negative sense involves stopping the larger partner from doing those things you believe to be harmful and which are in your power to stop.

Positive Coalition: Coalition in the positive sense involves promoting those policies you campaigned for at the election and which only being in government enables you to deliver.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.