Curious itinerary for Nick Clegg on North East England visit

The North East has now been graced by all three main party leaders ahead of Thursday's local elections. But the last of those visits - that of Liberal Democrat leader - Nick Clegg was slightly curious.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Nick Clegg's North East visit was to a factory in North Tyneside

The Lib Dems are fighting to hold on to control of Newcastle City Council.

Yet Nick Clegg's North East visit was to a factory in neighbouring North Tyneside - a council where the Lib Dems regularly come a poor third behind Labour and the Conservatives.

There was a good story to tell there. Bridon International has benefited from the government's Regional Growth Fund, and is hoping to create 50 new jobs with the grant.

(Labour of couse argue the fund is far less generous than the grants that were on offer before 2010 from regional development agency One North East).

But it was nothing to do with anything a Lib Dem council had done, and nothing to do with the election battle with Labour in Newcastle.

The Deputy Prime Minister was accompanied by a smattering of Lib Dem Newcastle councillors, and in his interview he was keen to push what he saw as their excellent record of running the council.

Excluded from Newcastle?

But there has to be a suspicion that, Mr Clegg was kept out of Newcastle itself for a reason.

In previous years, local party members would have been desperate for their leader to appear in the city to bolster their campaign.

But he's not regarded even within his own party as the greatest electoral asset at the moment.

And local Lib Dems may not have viewed a high profile visit as helpful to their prospects of persuading Newcastle's voters to stick with them.

Happy medium

So, in that case, why visit at all?

Well, I suspect this was an attempt to strike a happy medium.

Local members might have interpreted his absence as a sign he'd given up hope of the party retaining control of Newcastle.

And if he had stayed away altogether, Nick Clegg would also have been accused of hiding from the difficulties facing his local colleagues.

(As it is, some Labour and union representatives have asked why the Lib Dem leader didn't front up in the city itself.)

Robust questioning

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Image caption Lib-Dem leader addresses Bridon workers

Mind you, if he had hoped for a quiet time, he did reckon without the robust questioning he got from workers at Bridon.

They quizzed him hard on everything from tuition fees to Afghanistan. Evidence at least the staff hadn't been hand-picked for their timidity.

But with the Clegg visit over, Newcastle's Lib Dems will now get on with trying to sell their local record to voters before Thursday. They believe it is good enough to give them a fighting chance of holding on.

Tories fight on local issues

The Conservatives will also hope to fight on local issues. When he visited Darlington, David Cameron defended the Government's cuts, but also claimed Conservative councils were delivering them in a fairer and more measured way than Labour authorities.

That's something denied by Labour leader Ed Miliband of course, as his party claims Labour councils got a much tougher funding deal from the Coalition.

Instead Labour will hope to use the impact of cuts against both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

If you haven't voted already, you've got just a few days left to decide whether you agree with any of the main parties, or want to look elsewhere for your answers.

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