LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg made a valiant attempt at the party’s spring conference yesterday to raise the spirits of party workers and project the Lib Dems as a serious party of government.
He urged his followers to draw inspiration from the party’s impressive victory in the recent Eastleigh by-election in which the coalition partners the Conservatives were driven into third place.
But in talking up Lib Dem hopes on the basis of this one, admittedly impressive, by-election victory, Mr Clegg is facing formidable odds. Even allowing for the behavioural scandals of the past few weeks to fade, the party is still left with all the problems of being in a coalition government where progress in its shared objective – the reduction of the UK’s massive deficit and debt – has eluded it and where the austerity economics of Chancellor George Osborne are under growing challenge. The Conservative Right is increasingly frustrated at the reluctance of the leadership to undertake reductions in the UK’s welfare bill to make room for business tax cuts, while the Lib Dems are resolutely opposed to reductions in that spending and their grass-roots members would overwhelmingly prefer the adoption of a “Plan B”. But that has been effectively ruled out by Prime Minister David Cameron in his speech last week – an intervention two weeks before a budget in which many Conservative MPs had vested their hopes for a bold and radical programme to help kick-start the economy. For good measure, the Lib Dem leader also reaffirmed his opposition to any UK abandonment of the European Convention on Human Rights as advocated by Home Secretary Theresa May.
Mr Clegg may be right in his assertion that “the longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents, the easier your differences are to see”. But the problem for the Lib Dems is that it is standing side-by-side that has inflicted huge damage on the party – and continues to do so.
This has been brought home dramatically here by the latest Lord Ashcroft poll of marginal seats. A sample poll of voters in the 11 Westminster seats currently held by the Lib Dems in mainland Scotland shows the party facing a wipeout. Only Orkney and Shetland would remain in Lib Dem hands, with the SNP taking a swathe of Lib Dem strongholds. On this sort of showing, it’s not the differences that voters see but the part the Lib Dems have played in coalition to effect unpopular spending cuts.
But while the Lib Dem leadership seeks to raise the party’s sights towards the 2015 general election, when such unpopularity may hopefully have diminished, the problem is that austerity economics will remain the big issue in 2015 as the public spending reductions extend well into the next parliament. Whether the Lib Dems then repudiate them after having supported them in coalition, or choose to abandon them, they will face a formidable challenge to their credibility.
Sense must guide Glasgow 2014 prices
Of all the nightmare scenarios organisers of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games will be most anxious to avoid, it is row upon row of empty seats as over-ambitious ticket-pricing deters spectators.
While the cheapest tickets for the London Olympics were £20, seats for the much sought-after finals of most competitions started at £50, with the best seats costing several hundred pounds – and many seats for the opening ceremony were unsold up till the last minute.
Fortunately, it looks as if the imperative to aim for inclusive pricing has been taken on board. This is as well, given the warning from a parliamentary report that projections over ticket sales revenue for Glasgow 2014 were over-optimistic.
Tickets for some of the events at the Manchester Commonwealth Games cost as little as £5, including cycling, netball and wrestling. And the Glasgow organisers may have around 20 per cent more tickets to sell because of the large scale of venues like Celtic Park, Ibrox and Hampden.
Glasgow will have to shift more than one million tickets for the 12-day event and the proportion of tickets for the various competitions that will go on sale to the public, together with ticket prices, will be unveiled soon.
Bearing in mind the continued pressure on household incomes and the importance of ensuring the events are as accessible as possible, the organisers would do well to err on the side of caution.
And while this is a huge opportunity for Glasgow, the city should be alive to the “displacement effect” experience of London, where other tourist attractions suffered during the three-week Olympic period.