A year of Clegg


Today is Nick Clegg's first anniversary as leader of the Lib Dems. He may not want to celebrate it too loudly: the party is not doing much better in the polls now than it did under Clegg's predecessor Sir Ming Campbell. And with the partial exception of Vince Cable MP, the Lib Dems still struggles to make themselves heard in the political debate. Indeed, come election time the Lib Dems will probably struggle to keep the parliamentary seats they've got – a far cry from the electoral breakthrough that has occasionally seemed possible in the past.

That said, there have certainly been good things about Clegg's leadership. Most importantly, he has successfully repositioned the party on the issue of tax and public spending. Clegg has embraced a higher personal allowance and lower taxes for those on low-mid incomes, tax simplification at the wealthier end of the spectrum, and small reductions in public spending. It's not perfect policy – Lib Dem proposals to reform capital gains tax would hamper wealth creation, and the party could and should be much more radical about cutting spending – but it's a good start.

The Lib Dems have also been saying good things on education (where they now advocate school choice) and on health (where they would expand direct payments and personal budgets, and give people 'vouchers' to go private if the NHS can't treat them within a set time).

On a theoretical level, meanwhile, Clegg has pushed the party back towards its classically liberal roots – something I think is very welcome. He's still got a long way to go, but it is better than nothing. Britain would benefit from a genuinely liberal mainstream political party, like the German Free Democrats or Ireland's Progressive Democrats, if only to counteract the big-government paternalism that too often comes from both sides of the House.