Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Clegg's Words Were Reminiscent of Kinnock's Speech; Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Clegg's Words Were Reminiscent of Kinnock's Speech; Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Linford

IF one sign of a good politician is the ability to learn from the greats that have gone before you, then Nick Clegg certainly hit the mark in at least one respect this week.

"You don't play politics at a time of national crisis, you don't play politics with the economy, and you never, ever, play politics with people's jobs," the Liberal Democrat leader told his party conference in Birmingham.

Westminster watchers of a certain age were instantly transported back more than a quarter of a century to Bournemouth 1985, when Neil Kinnock tore into the grotesque chaos of Militant-run Liverpool.

"I'll tell you - and you'll listen!" he told the delegates as left-wing MP Eric Heffer stormed out of the conference hall. "You can't play politics with people's jobs, and with people's homes, and with people's services."

But words aside, was there any parallel between Kinnock's great oratorical tour-de-force and the Deputy Prime Minister's rather more pedestrian efforts of this week? Well, up to a point. Kinnock's words were, of course, solely directed at his own party, and so, to an extent, were Mr Clegg's. Coming as they did at the end of a lengthy defence of his party's decision to join the Coalition, the words seemed primarily a rebuke to those Lib Dems who would rather they had sat on the sidelines.

That might have been better 'politics,' in that the Lib Dems would not now be languishing at 15% in the opinion polls but the whole thrust of Mr Clegg's argument was that the national interest required him to set such considerations aside.

Currently, views on whether the Lib Dems were right to join a Conservative-led Coalition will depend by and large on whether or not they agree with the Conservatives' economic prescriptions.

In the North East and other regions where the fragile recovery of 2010 appears to have been choked off by the Government's public spending cuts, it is hardly surprising that many one-time Lib Dem voters think they were wrong.

But ultimately the question of whether Mr Clegg was right or wrong will be left to the judgment of history.

If Chancellor George Osborne's great economic gamble ultimately succeeds and the economy returns to strong growth before 2015, it will look like a good call - but if not, he will be seen to have sold his birthright for no more than a mess of potage. …

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