Thursday, 17 July 2014

Throwing The Orange Book At Liberals

Nick Clegg has long been a men best known for his mastery of non-apologies, the most famous being his deep remorse not for supporting a trebling in the annual cap for university tuition fees but for having pledged to oppose them specifically during the 2010 general election campaign. This policy was pushed through like so many others; with utter scorn and defamation directed at those affected and other critics of Coalition policy. The non-apology was intended to heal relations with students and liberal progressives whilst not committing to actually do anything; it actually reinforced Clegg's stance on tuition fees which is why it backfired and substantiated the feelings many had that he was pathologically dishonest even by usual political standards. 

In contrast, the announcement that the leadership of the party now at least partially agrees with the majority of the party that the bedroom tax was a bad idea, sort of, has a stated intent. It commits Clegg to changing it(but NOT scrapping it), where the previous mea culpae did nothing. 

Here's the problem though, where this new non-apology(not even framed to look like an apology) is similar to the tuition fees one is that it reinforces again the leadership's existing position on a stupid idea. Making it so that the charge only applies if an offer to move to better suited available housing has been turned down is not something that someone opposed to the bedroom tax does- it's something which a supporter does. It's what you do if you have thought it through, listened to advice and anticipated problems because even critics who bitterly oppose the idea know that they are unlikely to change your mind so at least don't want you to screw it up. In many policy areas and especially social security, the Coalition has done none of this. The proposed change which Clegg and co now accept would have cost absolutely nothing to have included in the Welfare Reform Act and would have spared thousands from penury. There was no reason not to have this little but important rule in place. The Liberals are claiming this change is a response to a DWP commissioned report saying that the policy wasn't working as intended, but the evidence for that was there long ago.

So to my mind this is not entirely a cold, calculated change of strategic heart from Clegg ahead of next year's election because he failed to make a cold, calculated decision to allow amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill to implement the changes he now supports. Where was the pragmatist then? Like the last non-apology, there's a chance people will see right through it and it will backfire because triangulating in politics is even less popular when it's obvious. The impression people get is that politicians think that they are idiots.