David Maddox: Nick Clegg sounds like he is resigned never to being in office again

Nick Clegg delivered a stark warning to his Tory coalition partners
Nick Clegg delivered a stark warning to his Tory coalition partners
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THERE is a point in a government where even the keenest observers lose count of relaunches, and with a coalition of two parties this is proving doubly the case at the moment.

We are all awaiting David Cameron’s big “tantric” speech on Europe sometime in the new year, but yesterday it was the turn of Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to mark five years as leader with a speech meant to redefine him and his party – yet again.

But what we learned was that essentially the Lib Dem message in the 2015 election will be “could have been at lot worse”.

Basically, their pitch is that they are the ones who bravely held back the rabid Tory eurosceptic, welfare slashers.

One suspects it may not be an entirely inspiring message.

For a man who still has more than two years to work together with his Tory coalition partners his speech made him sound like an opposition leader.

He warned of the “siren Tory voices” seeking to “impose draconian welfare cuts”.

He declared that Lib Dems had stopped “more extreme” plans to “penalise families with more than two children, by taking away child benefit” and “penalise young people who want to move away from home in search of a job by denying them housing benefit”.

It was a resigned speech of a man who knows that any hopes of more concrete achievements are dwindling.

It has been clear for some time now that even if there is a hung parliament after the 2015 election there is little appetite among either Tories or Lib Dems to get together again.

It is possible, given the current poll ratings which sometimes put them behind Ukip, that the Lib Dems may get crushed at the next election.

Voters don’t seem to have yet accepted the idea that they are the restrainers of the Tories. Rather they appear to accept Labour’s charge that they are the Tories’ allies in imposing harsh welfare cuts at a time when they nodded through a reduction in the higher tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more.

But Clegg’s speech was more than that. It was a speech of a man who knows he will probably not be in office again.

Even if the Lib Dems recover and hold the balance of power, there is now so much bad blood between them and their Tory coalition partners over reneging on boundary changes and the Lords reform being blocked, as well as other issues, that there can be little expectation of a renewal of the coalition.

Meanwhile Labour has poisoned the Lib Dem name so much that the antipathy there also makes a new centre-left coalition unlikely.

The reality is that if there is a hung parliament, which many believe, then the UK will probably be looking at a period of minority party government, with, at best, a confidence and supply arrangement with the Lib Dems.