It doesn’t take a master strategist to figure out what’s happening. The Lib Dems are taking a pasting for being too cosy with the Tories. So every now and again the boys in blue cut them a bit of slack and take one for the team; they allow the Lib Dems to say they have made a difference to Government policy. The Tories even allow them to imply that, without the odd splash of yellow, Cameron’s lot really would be getting away with murder. Cue a grateful populace.
Except, so transparent is this tactic – so obviously manufactured to appease the ego of Clegg and his team – that it manages to achieve the exact opposite: contempt rather than gratitude. Part of the problem is the preposterous enthusiasm with which the Lib Dems greet anything that they have had a say in.
Take the curtailment of Education Maintenance Allowance – funds to help keep cash-strapped 16-19 year olds in education. It started off as a £560m pot – and today, in it’s Lib-Dem moulded form, amounts to the considerably more modest amount of £180m. Given the money is already targeted on poorer teenagers, you’d be hard-pushed to celebrate this as a victory for fairness and justice.
Unless, of course, you are a Lib-Dem in which case you have ‘fought’ and ‘won’, ‘extra’ cash (even though the whole EMA was scaled back and today’s money is coming from an as yet unspecified cut from within the Education budget). The spin machine ramps this up, claiming the Lib Dems have achieved a ‘boost’ of £1200 for the poorest children, despite the fact that they would have got this under EMA anyway – well, all except a genuine ‘boost’ of, hold your breath, 77p.
The detail of the scheme also questions whether the Simon Hughes-driven back-patting is a tad premature. Namely, much of the new Fund will go to colleges to support their students – the risk here is that those most in need of this cash will be deterred at the prospects, and won’t enrol in the first place.
At best, this is a modest rearguard action to salvage something from the wreckage of endless Tory cuts. And, despite the oh-so-obvious political manouvering, this was achieved as much by the reality of student voters turning against the Lib Dems in their thousands (tipping many Ministerial marginal seats into the red), as it was by Clegg and the gang. So, sorry, don’t expect me to be grateful.