Oh what could have been…
I didn’t watch last nights Question Time Brexit Special because well, I tend to not watch Question Time in general but also a mate popped over to catch up. In fact in the past five years I’ve only seen one regular episode (when it was from Portsmouth after the government had given the two new aircraft carriers to a Scottish dockyard) but anyway I digress. I woke up this morning and was scrolling through my time line. One thing struck me (apart from a fellow SIAD grad and a football commentator reminding me of the fact Michael Gove existed and that Sarah Vine wakes up next to him daily, for which I am still traumatised) and that was that people are missing Nick Clegg. I’m not surprised.
If you go back through this very blog you’ll see numerous blurbs from me extolling the virtues of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. I make no bones about it. I agree with Nick. I did then, I do now and I pretty much have done so for the vast majority of the times in-between. The fact he unfollowed me on twitter hasn’t lessened my feelings towards the man (but the fact I’m bringing it up shows it is still galling…)
The thing is had things been different. Lets say Chris Huhne had become leader of the Lib Dems instead of Nick when they faced off against each other. Or had say Gordon Brown not said what he did with a hot mic about Gillian Duffy. Had the Greek economy not collapsed several days before the 2010 UK General Election. Had Lib Dem Conference done what Nick wanted to got rid of the pledge about tuition fees (because Nick knew in any coalition talks that was a big obstacle to overcome). Had the instant poll after the second leaders debate put Clegg ahead of Cameron by 1% instead of the other way round. Had just one of these things gone the other way then in all likelihood history will have been very different. Not just for Clegg personally but also for the country and the Lib Dems. Fine margins…
In my (albeit) brief lifetime (ok I am in my mid 30s now – eek) there have been two truly inspirational politicians in the UK. One was Tony Blair and the other is Nick Clegg. Whether you like them or their politics, they were the two people that you could see were a) natural leaders but more importantly b) had the potential to be great.
Blair’s legacy will forever be tarnished by Iraq and people forget that those Labour governments were not bad. They won three landslide elections on the spin (including one after the Iraq War) for a reason. Not just because the Tory party kept finding leaders who couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag or inspire people but because the general quality of life was getting better for many people.
For Clegg his legacy will be tied to tuition fees and a pledge he was fully committed to had he been Prime Minister but one he knew he couldn’t deliver in coalition. I have spent many calories typing away words about the difference between having a majority government and being a junior partner in the coalition but those words fell flat. Raw anger won and logic became something to be spoken about in hushed corners fearing that the mob would overhear.
Then 2015 happened. Most political pundits expected the Lib Dems to once again hold the balance of power. Ed Miliband was as hopeless a leader as expected and couldn’t deliver a Labour victory whilst the rest of the country decided they hated the coalition government so much that they would punish the junior party in that coalition. Let the Tories be free to do what they wanted is what people cried as they buried the Lib Dems with a hearty laugh and a cheer as they walked away from the ballot boxes.
Nick Clegg did the only thing he could, fall on his sword. The country had spoken and instead of another five years taming the right-wing Euro-sceptic part of the Conservative party. He would become a backbencher and watch as they dragged the government away from where most people actually wanted them to be. He would refuse a part in Tim Farron’s initial cabinet as he either felt like he had to lick his wounds or thought he was just too toxic. Then the EU Referendum came and things changed. The Cleggster was unleashed and he had that swagger back.
When people ask me who I would like to see as leader of the Lib Dems and Prime Minister it won’t surprise you as to my answer. Yet I know deep down that sadly that will never be the case. Tuition fees is a millstone around that neck and even though plenty of worse things are going on in government (both then and now) too many people would point to that one thing. It saddens me greatly that a man who could have been one of the great leaders of the world (yes I know some just spit out their cup of tea at that notion but I stand by it) will never have the opportunity to fulfil his potential.
For now though he’s become arguably the most articulate politician of the Anti-Brexit coalition. Tim Farron has been a clear and strong voice for it. Ken Clarke has been fighting from within and has shown deep courage in his convictions. Nicola Sturgeon is trying to use it as a lever to get an independent Scotland but Nick Clegg just gets it. He still has it. Put Clegg in a situation where people only listen to words with an open mind and no preconceived ideas then he’s the greatest asset the Anti-Brexit coalition has – by far.
The problem is though is that a situation enough people put themselves in? I fear not but after nigh on two years out of the limelight and out of the daily grind of the newspapers and comedians using him as their favourite low fruit punching bag then maybe the toxicity is evaporating. Will it ever happen to the degree that he could either lead the party again or potentially have a roll to play in a future coalition or Lib Dem government? I doubt it (and lets be honest – we have no idea if he wants to stand again in 2020 when he surely has a plethora of offers out there).
This is why I often look at things like timing and see it as so important. Not just in this example but in life for all of us. Sometimes opportunities come along at the right time but also sometimes the right thing happens but at the wrong time. Sometimes events conspire for you, sometimes against you. Had Nick Clegg not been leader of the Lib Dems in 2010 or been Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government and was now the fresh faced face of the Anti-Brexit movement, I suspect that movement would have its inspirational leader and that ball wouldn’t just be rolling, it would be gathering pace at a vast rate of knots.
I’ll leave you with these two questions:
Who would you trust to get the best deal for the UK in any Brexit negotiations, David Davis or Nick Clegg?
Who would you prefer to see as our Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson or Nick Clegg?
I suspect the answer is Clegg – to both.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.