From more popular than Winston Churchill to being less popular than me in Speedo’s. It has been quite the ride for the former leader of the Lib Dems and whilst the country turned against him due to him being an easy target, he should go to bed at night knowing that lives are better because of what he did than what would have happened had he not acted how he did in 2010.
You see I’m a long-term liberal but a short-term member having joined in 2011 during the coalition. I liked Paddy Ashdown (he visited my school in the 1997 General Election campaign but I wasn’t allowed to meet him because I wasn’t deemed important enough), I liked Charles Kennedy, I was indifferent to Sir Menzies Campbell but I loved Nick Clegg. Why was this?
The reason is simple, Nick was a economic realist but a passionate liberal. He did offer something different to what we had seen before. He was a breath of fresh air. You felt that he could take his vision of liberalism and imprint it on to the masses. Most of all you felt that his burning desire to make the world that little bit better was coupled with him just being a bloody good bloke. I am a Nick Clegg guy but I also know that his time had passed thanks to what the electorate did last week.
I know many Lib Dems do not like Nick Clegg and believe going into a coalition government with the Tories was against everything we as a party stood for. I understand their PoV but I vehemently disagree. You can have ideals and a vision but unless enough people back them then you can’t enact them. Instead you have to be pragmatic. I have always said that it is better to do some good when you can than not do any good if you can’t get everything that you want.
The tuition fees issue was disgracefully reported by the media and indeed leapt upon by other political parties. The Lib Dems kinda shot themselves in the foot over it but in reality the Lib Dems would never have realistically been able to stick to that pledge. Both Labour and the Tories knew of the financial situation regarding further education and both would have put up fees so the Lib Dems in another coalition would have had to bring down a government because of it or voted for a rise. Damned either way. Would the country have praised Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems for bringing down a government over this issue at a time of economic instability? I suspect not.
Personally I think Nick grew into the role of being Deputy Prime Minister and his role within the coalition. He did seem ‘too comfortable’ within the first couple of years but his facade was covering lots of work behind the scenes. I’ve heard from multiple sources about the fire fights in Whitehall as the Lib Dems led by Nick threw water on Tory proposals left, right and centre. The party couldn’t win every fight but boy they were putting up quite the fight considering the influence their representation deserved.
The party wasn’t the radical party that Lib Dems believe they are but the party was curbing Tory excesses and getting progress on several real liberal values. The job Nick Clegg and the parliamentary party did was nothing short of miraculous and in time their role in the government of the United Kingdom 2010-2015 will be truly appreciated.
I have no idea what Nick will do next but I personally will always adore his brand of liberalism and near enough everything he did whilst leading the Lib Dems. Could he have done things better? Sure, none of us do everything right, for example I have drunk from 1000s of cans and yet still every so often I miss my mouth and pour coke down my t-shirt. He fought the good fight and was learning from his mistakes but his biggest mistake was believing that the electorate would appreciate the nuance of coalition government. Alas they didn’t. In the next five years we’ll truly find out whether the 2010-2015 government was a centre-right coalition or just a right-wing one propped up by the Lib Dems. The early signs seems to dictate that it was the former.
So whoever takes over as leader, Norman Lamb or prohibitive favourite Tim Farron, they have giant shoes to fill. Nick Clegg led us into government but whilst in two elections he saw a reduction of Lib Dem MPs, he made a difference. He wasn’t just an idealist but also a realist. I want a leader who has a view of liberalism but also has a view of liberalism within the context of the United Kingdom in the early 21st Century. I want someone who’ll fight for what good he can get and not just fight for good for the cameras knowing they he can’t actually deliver.
Nick Clegg was a divisive leader because he wasn’t radical enough. People thought that he should have been more radical and more progressive but he fought for what he could get and not for what he wanted. Do we want to be true to ourselves but get nowhere or do we want to be willing to compromise but actually achieve something? That is a question many of us have to look at ourselves in the mirror and answer.
We can be radical and progressive but also we need to know when to say when. Nick did and without a shadow of a doubt, young pupils have a better start in life thanks to his role in government, people are free to marry who they want, people earn more money before they start paying tax, more people are in work, shared parental leave, two million apprenticeships, the triple lock on pensions and plenty more. We did well. Could we have done better? Sure but everyone could always do better with a mulligan.
So be proud Nick Clegg. You are a great man and were a great leader. You got pilloried by the public and by many other politicians but in time people will realise just how good you were. I can only hope Norman or Tim can carry on the flame and even if they do it in a different way, they can learn a lot from you as a politician but just as much from you as a person.
Finally Nick, thank you for making me believe that the country can become a more liberal and tolerant society. We all have a Utopian vision but you were the first leader to actually make a step towards that and for that, I’m grateful and so should we all.
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