Tuesday, 11 February 2014

BBC hatchet job on Nick Clegg

When is the BBC going to present a programme about the coalition from the Liberal Democrat point of view? We have heard endlessly from Conservatives, Labour MPs and commentators who sympathise with one or other of those parties. After the first couple of shows, I have ignored them but I thought I would give Steve Richards' two-parter on Radio 4 yesterday a chance, firstly because though clearly a democratic socialist Richards was a critic of the Labour government in his Independent columns, and secondly because we were promised the inside story with Nick being able to speak for himself.

Well, the interviews were there all right, but they were undercut by contributions from Paul Marshall, the man behind the Orange Book who claimed, unchallenged, that Liberal Democrats in government had signed up to his brand of free-market economics; and from Peter Hain (never truly a Liberal, as he himself admits), who blamed the breakdown on coalition talks with Labour solely on Clegg's Conservatism, ignoring (a) the parliamentary arithmetic and (b) the totally uncooperative attitude on the part of large numbers of his comrades. Some old canards were slipped in, like liberals having totally different policies in different constituencies, or that the party had reversed its policy on tuition fees.

Nor was it true to say that the party was surprised at the size of the cuts made by the chancellor. In fact, the budget cuts were in the same bracket as the Liberal Democrat manifesto, much less than the Conservative proposals and also less than the Labour ones.

On the NHS in England, nobody pointed out that the LibDem manifesto did indeed call for less central control by cutting out a tier of governance. The scheme pushed by Andrew Lansley and no doubt influential lobbyists not only did not fulfil the coalition agreement but also went against all the parties' manifestos in one way or another.

There were some bright spots. Peter Hain's suggestion that Nick should have stood out for one of the great offices of state, preferably the chancellorship, rather than the deputy prime minister position with an emphasis on constitutional affairs, was a shrewd one. Whether the Conservatives, the largest party in parliament, would have acquiesced is another matter, but it wouldn't have hurt to be seen trying.

Surprisingly, by far the friendliest contribution came from Ken Clarke, who though an enthusiast for European union, is no liberal.

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