The future's bright, the future's Orange
The reaction to Nick Clegg's speech on public services has been fascinating. His speech has been widely welcomed in the media and much more importantly the party as an authentically liberal answer to the question of choice in public services.
Only a few years ago a speech by a LibDem leader advocating a massive increase in the role of the private & voluntary sectors in the provision of public services it would have caused outrage across much of the party. Over the last 20 years the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have allowed themselves to be characterised as the last protectors of the old Butskellite consensus, reactionary defenders of the status quo in public services. But oh how times change, when Liberalfuture was launched as a pro-market ginger group in the party in 2001, it was attacked as a Tory trojan horse, while the publication of the Orange Book in 2004 created an avalanche of opposition. Now those much maligned views are fast becoming the mainstream of party thinking.
Clegg's speech was firmly in the vein of both Liberalfuture & the Orange Book. It's not that he has adopted wholesale the policies they advocated, it is that he has explicitly accepted their analysis, that the Liberal Democrats must rediscover their anti-statist roots, and reclaim the small government, individualist liberal tradition which is now the undercurrent of political debate.
This is the speech that I wish Nick Clegg had made during the leadership election, but better late than never. Clegg has clearly learnt his lesson, in the brief month since becoming leader he has invited the head of the country's leading management college to review the party's structures & operations, he has cheekily pinch Maggie Thatcher's old campaign adviser to oversee a shakeup of communications and now he is challenging the party to drop is soggy thinking on policy and return to our liberal roots.
This is the Nick Clegg I voted for: bold, radical & liberal - now at long last we can start to draft a manifesto which is as well.