Tom Richmond: Inside story on Cameron sheds light on Clegg’s fate

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JEREMY CORBYN’S rise to the Labour leadership, and the dilemma about whether to be a protest movement or serious party of government, has overshadowed the fate of the Liberal Democrats.

Six months ago, the party had five Ministers in the Cabinet. Now, with just eight MPs, the party is struggling to make its voice heard in Parliament – its leader has just one slot at Prime Minister’s Questions in a good week. Nick Clegg has spoken just three times since the election, and one of those occasions was to pay tribute to Charles Kennedy.

Yet the inescapable conclusion from Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon’s riveting new book, Cameron At 10: The Inside Story, is that the fate of Clegg and the Lib Dems was determined in the coalition’s opening weeks.

Three reasons explain this. First William Hague, one of the Tory coalition negotiators, was struck by the naïvety of the Lib Dems. “Liberals always come out badly,” he remarked at the time.

Second, Clegg spurned an offer from Chancellor George Osborne to delay the cancellation of an £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. The goodwill gesture was intended to buy the Lib Dems and spare the party from the controversy that followed, but the Sheffield Hallam MP felt he had to “share the pain” of the austerity agenda.

Third, the Lib Dems offered minimal resistance, according to this book, to plans to raise university tuition fees. “They are mad to let us do this,” remarked Osborne. He was right – the volte-face proved to be toxic right up to the 2015 election.

It became even more bizarre as the coalition proceeded – it was, according to the authors, Clegg and not the Tories who was questioning whether 0.7 per cent of GDP really had to be spent on foreign aid.

Why does this matter? Given the parlous state of the Lib Dems, and Labour for the matter, it cannot be right that the House of Commons adjourned on Thursday for the traditional party conference season. Events permitting, MPs don’t return to Westminster until October 12.

I know the Lib Dem gathering at a Bournemouth telephone box – sorry, conference venue – begins today and ends on Wednesday, but these have become little more than political fundraising events and booze-ups and should not stand in the way of Parliament’s work.

I can’t understand why conferences cannot be held from a Thursday afternoon to Sunday so the legislative process can continue as normal and proper debates be held on totemic issues, such as any British military involvement in Syria.

I SEE I am not the only person to be totally underwhelmed by Environment Secretary Liz Truss and her dithering over the dairy crisis. Her predecessor Owen Paterson was far from impressed when he was sacked by David Cameron to make way for younger, and more telegenic, ministers,

According to Cameron At 10, Paterson told the Prime Minister: “You will never find anyone who has my rural background.” Yet the ex-Minister was even more scathing when he met the newly-appointed Truss, who grew up in Leeds.

He told her: “I think it is bloody disgraceful what the Prime Minister has done to you. You’ve been in Parliament for three nano-seconds. You know about education, you wanted to go to education.

“But here you find yourself dummied into Defra, where you have no background at all. This is my phone number. Ring me any time if you want any help.”

Given how Truss has failed to be a powerful advocate for farmers, and the wider rural economy, I can only assume she has not called Mr Paterson and, as I have said before, is biding her time before the next Ministerial merry-go-round.

With Labour following suit by putting a vegan in charge of its farming policy, if it has one one, agriculture – the lynchpin of the economy, has reasons to feel betrayed by the political elite choosing, once again, to marginalise rural affairs.

IT Is also clear from the book that the Prime Minister and Chancellor are joined at the hip – neither says, or does, anything without the approval of the other. On meeting his officials for the first time, George Osborne made this point: “I’m not prepared to countenance any anti-Number 10 gossip or thinking in the Treasury.” Now that Osborne is clear favourite to be the next Prime Minister, I’m intrigued at who he has in mind to be his soul-mate and Chancellor? Sajid Javid, the Rochdale-born Business Secretary and son of an immigrant bus driver, would be my early bet. As blogger Iain Dale once noted: “His fast rise up the greasy pole into George Osborne’s inner circle is not only proof of this man’s ambition but also his talent.”

AS it is easy to criticise the National Health Service when treatment or care goes awry, it is only right to praise the NHS when it exceeds expectations. Struck down with a very sore tooth, I phoned the dentist at 9am on Monday, was seen on time at 11am and prescribed antibiotics to ease an infection.

For just £18.80, the cost of the emergency appointment, I could not have asked for more. Thank you.

SMOKER’S corner outside the Coral bookmakers in Guiseley will not be the same without the regular presence of the one and only Brian Close drawing on a cigarette as he studied the racing form. A trailblazing cricketer for Yorkshire, Somerset and England, I am certain of one fact – there has never been a braver player in the game’s long history.

Whether facing the West Indies fast bowlers with no helmet, or fielding under a batsman’s nose, he never flinched. That should be his epitaph.

THE walk along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Bingley Five Rise Locks towards Skipton is a delight at this time of year; the Yorkshire Dales gently coming into view as boats chug along at their leisurely pace while a heron swoops for prey. 
The towpath has now been upgraded and could not be in better condition for walkers and cyclists alike. What a shame then that so many people can’t be bothered to take their litter home or place their rubbish in the bins. I can’t think of a sadder indictment of contemporary society.