Sunday, 9 May 2010

Curtains for Clegg?

Two contrasting references to Nick Clegg on this morning's Broadcasting House on Radio 4. A couple of the newspaper reviewers blamed hostile press coverage for bursting the Clegg bubble and producing the lower-than-expected Lib Dem result. I think this is wrong: it affords too much power to the media and patronisingly paints the British people as passive dupes. Instead, I think many of those who had been impressed by Clegg's undoubted presentational skills in the first debate slowly realised that there was very little substance behind the platitudes. In the final debate on the economy, the Lib Dem leader had (almost literally) nothing to say, and the highlight of his election eve rally speech was a vacuous promise to 'deliver fairness'.

A rather different reference to Clegg on this morning's programme came in retiring MP Chris Mullin's diary of the election. Reflecting on the first debate, Mullin scoffed at the hypocrisy of Clegg railing against the sins of politicians when he himself is a 'maximum claimer' of expenses who was prepared to flip-flop on policy at the drop of a hat, carefully omitting his earlier call for savage spending cuts from his new improved message.

I've grown to like Clegg less and less as the election, and the post-election kerfuffle, has progressed. At best, I'm irritated by his repetitiousness, studied body language, and curious habit of bobbing up on down on his heels as he speaks. He's just too keen for my liking, and he and his jolly Lib Dems remind me too much of the Methodists among whom I grew up. (Not surprising: many of them are Methodists, and other species of Nonconformists, who really really want 'fairness', but without any of that nasty class conflict business. I bet they serve weak tea at their meetings.) At worst, he has some of the superior high-mindedness and 'above the fray' piousness of the worst kind of religious puritan - ironic, given his vaunted agnosticism. He seems to genuinely believe that he's more progressive than Brown, when one suspects that he would secretly feel more at home cosying up to the Conservatives.

In short, I don't trust Nick Clegg's judgement in these difficult days, and for once I'm grateful for the Lib Dems' chaotic constitution and grassroots bolshyness. Maybe his party members will keep him from a precipitate leap into bed with Cameron. He's in an unenviable position though. If he fails to seal a deal with either party, he'll be ditched by his party for having passed up the best chance of power in a generation. If he allies his party with either the Tories or Labour, he risks being scorned by the electorate for propping up an unpopular minority administration. At the inevitable second election (October, anyone?), it's likely the voters will see the need to make a decisive choice between one of the big two parties, and the Liberals could end up with even fewer seats than this time. Either way, it could be curtains for Clegg.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Yes, the media rushed to dub Clegg 'king-maker' far too hastily. In fact, he's on the razor's edge - lose-lose, whichever way he falls. There must be a second election pdq, esp. in view of shut-outs @ polling stations and some alarming evidence of fraud (not to mention triumphalist posting on Twitter the results of postal votes pre-election by AnPerson in Brissle: blimey, with friends like these ...). Then the next government MUST reform the electoral system, one way or another - before even considering a debate on PR, we need to know that the results of any subsequent election are as accurate as possible.