Friday, September 17, 2010

Nick Clegg......Convincing me about the Coalition

This morning, along with my fellow bloggers I wended my way along to Nick Clegg's new office (formerly occupied by Peter Mandelson). Given I was on my way to Liverpool I was accompanied by my case, causing Nick to quip that he thought I was opposed to the coalition, so why was I moving in? Hmmm, well, in my student days our preferred mode of protest was occupationJ. The quips about my love for the coalition continued throughout, can't think why - but time was short and far too short for us all to ask all the questions we had brimming over in our minds. Before the interview, as we all strategically positioned our iphones, Helen Duffett asked if Nick minded, his reply, of course not - it's just this one (gesturing towards mine) I may pour my coffee over. Well start as you mean to go on! But I don't know what he actually did, having recorded the whole thing, I have somehow deleted all except 7 minutes of it! So, as I am waiting to get a copy from Helen I will just give some initial thoughts.

Longsuffering readers will remember that I was one of Nick's most vociferous supporters in the blogosphere and for a very good reason. While I very much appreciated his liberal attitude, especially with regards to young people and the justice system, I clearly had differences with him on many other issues. But I supported him because I appreciated his honesty and compassion and I knew he was a pragmatist. So long as the party as a whole reflected our social liberal values, Nick would go along with it. And he has, time and again he may have lost the argument on FPC, but what I have admired him for is that he has then got behind the policy he may not have been totally sold on. I suppose what I admit I had not thought enough about, was what might happened if we ended up in coalition and those same characteristics were demonstrated in bed with the Tories.

So, unsurprisingly Nick was upbeat and chipper. He is comfortable in his skin. His ability to compromise and take a pragmatic approach to partnership with the Tories leaves him unruffled, though I guess what none of us really knows is just how much of that compromise he is actually quite happy with. He is determined to do politics differently, to demonstrate that coalition government can work. It would have been very easy to have left his sumptuous office feeling reassured, optimistic, passionate about the task ahead, however difficult. He made a point of saying that bubbly optimistic people like him and me saw the glass half full not half empty (oops another dig about my anxieties about the coalition!), he believes that the approach the coalition are taking will make a difference to that issue he cares so passionately about, social mobility. When he touched on housing in this context I had the opportunity to challenge him about the coalition's attitude to housing and housing benefit. He seemed genuinely not to know the full story on this and gave me a glimmer of hope that this is something he may be willing to take up. Although he repeated the Cameron mantra that it was all because the bill had mushroomed and was unaffordable, I took the opportunity to remind him that was down to Thatcher. Frankly it is a nonsense that private landlords can buy ex council houses and then the council ends up paying 4 times as much in housing benefit for them as they would have had they stayed in council ownership!

So, did he persuade me to support the coalition? You'll have to wait until I get some notes from Helen and write part two to find out J