Yesterday was supposed to be a “good news” day for Nick Clegg as he announced the Government's £450m regional growth fund to safeguard 100,000 jobs.
Surely that would provide a welcome break from his battles to win concessions from David Cameron on health reforms and to head off a ‘no’ verdict in next month's referendum?
Alas, the Deputy Prime Minister had reckoned without the formidable Gillian Duffy, the Rochdale pensioner who destabilised Labour's general election campaign a year ago after Gordon Brown was caught on a microphone branding her a “bigoted woman”.
Mrs Duffy demanded an audience with Mr Clegg when he visited Rochdale. She got one — in full view of television cameras.
Mr Clegg greeted Mrs Duffy with a smile, a handshake but she was in no mood for pleasantries and soon got down to business.
The lifelong Labour voter wanted to know why the Liberal Democrats “went in” with the Conservatives rather than Labour.
A firm but polite Mr Clegg told her: “Because you may remember, no-one won the election at all... I think it is important you have a government that can do things because we have to sort out a lot of mess we inherited.”
She asked Mr Clegg to “look me in the eye and tell me” he was happy with the spending cuts.
In reply, Mr Clegg explained the record peacetime fiscal deficit was the equivalent of his family “maxing” out their credit cards.
Unimpressed, Mrs Duffy said he was making “just the same speech” she heard him give an hour earlier on the radio.
Mr Clegg responded: “I think, if we don't get this stuff right now, we won't be able to do good things in the future.
“You may disagree,” he added, as the pair parted company.
Later Mrs Duffy said Mr Clegg failed to convince her about the coalition's merits. “Let's face it, it's all gone wrong,” she said.
Mr Clegg was also forced to dismiss a call from a senior party figure to pull the Lib Dems out of the coalition or face extinction.
He said Warren Bradley, his party's leader on Liverpool City Council, was “wrong” and claimed he was doing the opposition's job for them in calling for the split.
In a leaked letter Mr Bradley urged his party leader to act before “we disappear into the annals of history”.
He said Lib Dem councillors were set to lose seats in local elections on May 5, and the coalition was to blame.
Mr Bradley went on to write: “We have to sever ties from the coalition; if we fail to do this, we have only our parliamentarians to blame.”
Gillian v Clegg
Gillian v Brown
Gillian v Benn