Defending the latest soundbite is always difficult. After a long and bruising local election campaign, what do I see in the news? The advent of ‘Muscular Liberalism’. ‘Muscular’ seemed appropriate as my first reaction was ‘give me strength!’
At first I thought it might just be a term which the media invented – but now see that Nick Clegg used the expression in a speech to mark one year of the coalition.
‘You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government’. Yes, no problems there but I take an issue with the sentence before that. ‘We will stand together, but not so closely that we stand in each other’s shadow.’
I admire Nick Clegg and always try to defend him. Nick Clegg has shown remarkable resilience against the biggest onslaught against any politician in recent years. Many of us would have folded under the pressure – but Cleggy goes on. However sometimes I feel he is his own worst enemy.
After talking about a distinct identity, what do I see? A joint appearance with David Cameron – where they continue to joke with each other like old mates. This, to me, looks like standing ‘in each other’s shadow.’
I wish, time and again,that he wouldn’t do these joint photo ops. The 'Cameron and Clegg show' just looks ridiculous. I was particularly angry a few weeks ago when Nick toured a hospital with Cameron and Andrew Lansley at a time when we are trying to save the NHS from the latest daft Tory ideas. Even the expression ‘muscular liberalism’ was used by David Cameron not so long ago.
There is nothing wrong in a close personal relationship with business partners but, in my view, this contradicts talk about maintaining one’s own identity.
I want to see Nick Clegg away from the Tories and pursuing our agenda on his own or with Liberal Democrats. I want to see him talking about things that matter to Liberal Democrats, such as political reform, civil liberties, fair taxes, the environment, and social mobility. If we make it clear that we still believe in the things we stand for then, in time, our supporters will come back.
But for now, please, no more soundbites, no more grumbling. The elections are over, the referendum campaign is finished. We took a beating but it’s done for another year.
Let’s stop worrying about opinion polls and just get on with the job. Let’s see our ministers get on with it, keep a stable government in place to ensure recovery, keep aiming for growth and jobs, keep pursuing our initiatives in education and the environment, and keep working towards fairness in society.
Respect will be regained by less soundbites and more action on the issues important to liberal democracy. That is the best way to flex your muscles.