THEY say the best form of defence is attack, which is exactly what Sheffield Hallam MP and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg decided to do by launching a new wave of meet the people sessions, here in his home city.
Mr Clegg is the first to admit he is under fire at the moment. He faces a barrage of criticism about his decision to renege on his promise not to vote for an increase in tuition fees. He has endured bitter and personal abuse from political opponents over the decision to withdraw an £80m loan to Forgemasters last year, and he is in the cauldron of an aggressive campaign over the crown jewels of his party’s manifesto – to change the voting system.
So he decided to return to Sheffield to gain a litmus paper test on how he was doing and to listen to what the people had to say.
And they did not disappoint. They held him to account on tuition fees, they grilled him on his Government’s record on job creation and they backed him on wanting to change the first past the post system.
Mr Clegg showed what he proved during the televised pre-election debates – that he is an accomplished performer. He took on the criticism and contextualised it.
It was inevitable he had to change his tune on tuition fees – because his party did not win the election.
He rounded on the often personal abuse he has received from Labour about the cuts they are having to deliver.
And when asked about whether £2m is too high a price for the police to pay to bring his party’s conference to the city, he emerged from his answer with most people nodding in agreement that it was an unmissable opportunity to put Sheffield in the national spotlight.
Mr Clegg may appear to be the whipping boy of the coalition Government, but last night he showed he has the appetite for a fight – an appetite he will need to win over the rest of the country if he is to deliver the bigger prize of electoral reform.
Right not to charge
There will be many people surprised to read today that Stageocach, the operators of our tram system is not having to pay rent for running the service, despite making a healthy profit.
But it would be easy to forget that this company came to the rescue of the debt-ridden service in 1997.
When its contract is up, that will be the time to ensure the city gets a decent return on the deal.