This is my requested response to the Evening Standard about Nick Clegg's speech to the LibDem Spring Conference in which he vowed to protect his party's 'soul' despite being forced to make compromises as part of the deal to be in coalition.
Protests are, he said, "the price of power" (and any classical scholars among you may like to consider the Milian Dialogue on exactly this point) - suggesting that if you want to any some influence on the world then you'd better learn sooner than later that 'you can't please all of the the people all of the time'.
It's a cliche, but it is because it's about as close to the truth as it's possible to get.
You can watch a clip of him speaking here.
And here is a full transcript of his speech.
100-150 words is a good rule of thumb for providing a comment, but I enjoy playing with formats to mess with people's minds, so I wrote double and split it into two parts to make a wider point.
I think it works best as one combined, but you can feel free to choose either depending on how they complement other viewpoints. Your choice will be an indicator of which side of the debate you're on.
1) Every LibDem leader is habitually criticised for a percieved inability to stage-manage the appearance of unity, but it is this openness about any real differences which keeps the LibDems such a vibrant force in British politics. It is a refreshing change from the old left-right axis and is the well-spring of constant revitalisation, though at times it can feel like a queasy rollercoaster ride.
The 'soul' of the LibDem party and what distinguishes it from other parties is that it is driven by the membership rather than the leadership, so Nick Clegg's ability to demonstrate that he enagages in active debate and actually reflects the majority view is more important than his immediate poll ratings in one the top jobs. His performance in Sheffield showed he is a master at tempering idealism without becoming overly-pragmatic, but good politics doesn't always make for good headlines.
2) Contrary to claims that vocal dissent over specific priorities indicates a split in support, this is in fact nothing more than par for the course. Nick Clegg knows LibDem politics isn't about him, he knows it's about doing politics in a way which produces effective and positive policy, but he also knows his opponents are trying to personalise things in order to distract from the underlying issues.
Where determined resolution to enact principles shapes events reactionary opinion always lags idly behind, so despite any current concerns about his popularity levels Clegg can stand tall as the most successful LibDem leader of the modern era and he can be sure this will stand his party in good stead. And as the economy starts to pick up again you can be confident that he will have earnt his electoral bonus - though whether that can come soon enough for this May is another matter.
I think the basic point I'm trying to get across is the need for balance in any debate.
The scenes of angry protesters directed at the LibDem leader is a big change from days when Charlie Kennedy lead protests over the misconceived invasion of Iraq, but it's not a new experience for a party with a strong grassroots activist membership who won their spurs mixing it for decades against the 'hang em and flog em' brigade, racists, militant pro-lifers and a whole host of blinkered utopian opportunists and absolute cynics for whom being human isn't good enough for a potential government-in-waiting.
The hard lesson that there is rarely any quick fix to perceived or real problems and those that there are aren't easily transferred to subsequent generations who are rightly impatient for improvement.
However impatience can also easily spill over to cause the hasty presumption which leads to unfair and damaging favoritism and is prime amongst the evils to the liberal tradition.
So having made the decision to join the coalition, Clegg and his party are forced to tough it out and prove themselves all over again, or provide a perfect demonstration of flakiness to give their critics all the evidence they need.
So it may not be just about whether LibDem MPs can keep hold of their soul, but whether they have the stomach to stick it out and also the good sense to chart a sustainable strategy in this delicate and volatile situation when events beyond control could have seismic consequences - literally.
With the Nikkei predicted to fall by up to 20% as insurance losses from the massive 8.9 quake and Tsunami are expected to top $35bn, European markets have shuddered just when the return of market confidence was beginning to be felt in the real economy.
Add to this the possibility of the explosive Libyan situation and there are clear and immediate triggers for impending global disaster - on a timescale which even the most doom-laden climate fearmonger would avoid like the plague.
Watch out for those banana skins.
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