One ally of the deputy Prime Minister suggested to me yesterday that the press was missing the most significant aspect of Clegg’s speech on education: Clegg acknowledging that free schools would now be a permanent part of the educational landscape. This ally argued that this was a big deal given that a year ago Lib Dem conference had voted to boycott these schools.
The Lib Dem leader is considerably more liberal than his party. This means that he sometimes needs, so the argument goes, to sweeten the reformist pill with some Lib Dem rhetoric. Hence the emphasis on free schools being fair schools in yesterday’s speech.
But this internal Lib Dem party management is frustrating for Conservative ministers. They complain that it often leads to concessions which undermine the effectiveness of a whole policy.