Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nick Clegg: if you want to really apologise, withdraw from the coalition

Yesterday, we had an example of the worst sort of political apology. Nick Clegg has apologised for his pledge not to raise university tuition fees, but not the actual act of doing so. The same from Vince Cable. It’s one of those occasions in politics where I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. What does Clegg expect? A pat on the back for being honest enough to say that he shouldn’t have made this pledge? A round of applause for admitting when he’s made a mistake? Or is this a plea to left-of-centre/liberal voters everywhere to remind them that he’s still one of them, and not Tory-lite?

On these pages, Neil Monnery, a Lib Dem, does his best at defending Clegg’s apology. He makes a good point that rather than hoping voters flock back to his ailing party, this is primarily aimed at disillusioned Lib Dems wanting to feel good about their own party again. Wanting to be able to trust them again. Which seems fair enough.
Except, I’m afraid, for me, it doesn’t wash. Call me a harsh, unforgiving, so and so, but in my opinion, this apology further weakens the standing of Nick Clegg, Deputy PM. The apology changes nothing. It doesn’t help the first cohort of students starting university this month saddled with £27,000 debt, before we even get in to cost of living and accommodation. It’s an apology that says: “I shouldn’t have promised not to do it, but I did, and anyway, I’m glad the policy got enacted because it was, and still is, the right thing to have done.”

Expect opprobrium to rain down from the Labour ranks. Higher top up fees is probably third down on the list of awful policies that the Lib Dems in government have voted through. The selling off and destruction of our NHS, and unfailing commitment to stick to damaging austerity make up the top three.
Clegg may get a Conference boost, a larger audience for his Conference speech. The Lib Dems may inch up one or two percentage points in the polls. But, that’ll be it. It’ll be short lived and long forgotten come election day. After all, the policy stands and has his unconditional support. The only thing Clegg can do to satisfy his sternest critics is to withdraw from the coalition, forcing the possibility of a general election. Except, this won’t happen. This ‘apology’ guarantees what I’ve felt from day one: that the coalition will go the distance.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Thursday 20th September 2012

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