Tom Richmond: Bruised Clegg needs to win back our trust

THIS has been a bruising week for Nick Clegg. And it's not over yet. For while the coalition won the tuition fee vote, the ramifications for the Liberal Democrats will be profound.

Even though the safeguards achieved by the party for poorer students highlight the benefits of the coalition Government, Clegg and co have simply lost the PR battle.

This was illustrated, perfectly, by a Twitter comment written by Sam Thomas, a top National Hunt jockey, when the Sheffield Hallam MP took to the airwaves to defend his plans: "Wouldn't want to be nick cleg right now he's getting some stick. 5 live."

Given that professional sportsman are normally immune to the nuances of the political debate, this shows the extent to which the Lib Dems' difficulties have resonated with voters – they simply do not understand what is driving a party, and a leader, that promised "a new politics" before the election.

Thomas is not alone. I've lost count of the number of people who I've spoken to this week who believe that the Liberal Democrats are finished.

They're not – voters are very fickle, as the opinion polls before the election showed – but Clegg's task is to demonstrate that he can be trusted when he, or his colleagues, make future pledges.

It will not be easy, especially as the broken promise is about the only line of attack that Labour has at its disposal at present. It will not be made any more straightforward by talk that the Tories and Lib Dems want to strike a two-term electoral pact that would last until 2020 as a signal of their future intentions.

That is why Clegg has to win back the confidence of his own party in the coming weeks, before they inflict terminal damage on the Lib Dems, and then try to win back the trust of the country. In short, there needs to be a new statement of beliefs that acknowledges the party's coalition responsibilities – and the country's dire economic circumstances.

And then people might, just, understand what Clegg stands for – and why he was right to enter government in May in the national interest rather than take the far easier decision and walk away.

THIS shows the dysfunctional state of a railway industry that sends away de-icing trains to be serviced during the big freeze. Staff at Northern Rail are being balloted over the possibility of strike action on December 27 and 28. It comes down to the amount conductors should be paid for working over the festive period – even though the operator provides no Christmas service. This is, again, the same rail operator which was advertising trains as being "on time" this week and then cancelling them 15 minutes after their scheduled departure from Leeds. This affected thousands of passengers. When I highlighted this earlier this year, the company promised that lessons would be learned.

They have not been. Communication on the railways remains third-class. And, rather than promising longer franchises, as Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced this week, shouldn't he be terminating the Northern franchise and finding an operator which is prepared to put passengers first – and simply tell the truth about which services are running or not?

After hearing so many tales of woe this week, I've come to the conclusion that both Northern Rail and East Coast believe that passengers exist to serve their interests. They do not. In case they've forgotten, such firms are supposed to provide a public service – and it is high time that they started doing so, bad weather or not.

AFTER England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup was predictably rejected by Fifa, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, chose to announce that he was withdrawing the offer of rooms at the exclusive Dorchester Hotel for football boss Sepp Blatter, and his cronies, during the 2012 Olympics.

It made Johnson feel better, evidently. But what possessed the Tory buffoon, and Olympic boss Lord Coe, to offer the hospitality package in the first place? Shouldn't rooms be offered to people in this country who threaten to be priced out of the Olympics?

This, I'm afraid, is yet another own goal on Johnson's part. For the failure to land the World Cup has far greater significance than the hosting of the Olympics in 18 months time.


While the 2012 Games are for the near-exclusive preserve of London, despite Coe's utterances about a British Olympics, hosting the World Cup would have brought about stadium and infrastructure improvements in the north of the country – and, specifically, Leeds and Sheffield.

TALKING of London, I see 16 tourist leaders are bleating about threats to funding. Even though the Olympics is providing the capital with unprecedented amounts of free publicity and marketing, they're complaining about possible reductions at VisitLondon, an organisation that receives public investment of 11.7m a year.

Given that these individuals also say tourism is worth 16bn a year to the capital, I would have thought that they could foot the bill out of their own coffers so resources can be targeted on the provinces that will lose out during the Olympics. Such as, dare I say, Yorkshire.

NO wonder Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, looks a worried man. His elder brother, David, returned to the political fray this week and asked the most pertinent question – why do those GPs now responsible for NHS budgets undergo no work on commissioning during their eight years of training?

The former Foreign Secretary is right to question why people with no financial expertise will be responsible for vast budgets – but why couldn't Labour's front bench have made this point?