This is not going to be upbeat folks.
Nick Clegg is the reason I’m involved in politics. Plain and simple. His view of the world and what is worth campaigning for is extremely aligned to mine. He is the person I’ll defend to the hilt most of all when people come at me with various views that aren’t liberal. The personal vendetta against him by a large section of society has made me question just how other people can see the same as me but see it completely differently. This isn’t just outward looking towards those not voting for (nor members of) the Lib Dems but also inward looking. Many in the party do not like him and I often struggle to understand why.
We’ll start from the very beginning, its a very good place to start so I’ve heard. I did A-Level politics and have always had interest in the subject. I was always more liberal than anti-Tory. I found that my views of the world are extremely liberal and they haven’t really changed as I’ve gotten older. Yet I had very little interest in actually getting involved. I went off to university and then after uni I bounced about a bit. I would trundle along to the local primary school or church hall on election days and put my x in the Lib Dem box but that was that.
Come Cleggmania though I was starting to be getting drawn in. The truth of the matter was I looked at him the way many looked at Tony Blair in 1997, I looked at him and I genuinely believed that he could deliver a brighter and more prosperous future. Not only that but that he could engineer a more tolerant and welcoming society. This was an era before UKIP’s popularity was inflamed by the media normalising racist and xenophobic behaviour but still I thought a future where intolerance would be shunned.
That first debate happened and suddenly everything seemed possible, no matter how far-fetched. The electorate saw their was a potential third way. It wasn’t just left or right but also centre. Voting for the Lib Dems wasn’t just a protest vote against one of the other two parties. It was a vote for something rather than against something else.
As we all subsequently know though, the media decided they didn’t like that. Hatchet jobs were done on him and polling data suppressed by The Sun that could have changed the course of the 2010 General Election. The key piece of data from that YouGov polling was that they found if people thought Nick Clegg’s party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49 per cent of the votes, with the Tories winning 25 per cent and Labour just 19 per cent. So essentially if people thought the Lib Dems were in it, they would vote for them.
As it turned out, this was kept out of the limelight for weeks and allowed the other two main parties to once more get back into the front seat by saying it was only them that could win the election. Once momentum had gone it was difficult to get back. Of course the Lib Dems would eventually go into a coalition with the Tories and that would prove his downfall.
Tuition fees. Two words for which the Lib Dem membership and FPC will always skate away scot-free on. Those two words would become the millstone around the neck that caused the liberal dream to be shunted back a generation at best. The Lib Dems believed then (as do most now) that free university tuition is a good thing. The issue is when you go into coalition, you can’t actually put your manifesto into place. The country as a whole had firmly rejected the Lib Dem manifesto but when they voted for (in most cases – I think four Lib Dem MPs didn’t if my memory serves me right – my memory didn’t – I’m correctly told it was 21) the backlash and vitriol was paramount. The country said they didn’t want the Lib Dems but still smeared them for not doing what they proposed to the country. Tough crowd.
This brings me towards something I may well write about later if I have the time. The electorate do not seemingly want three-party politics. The media most certainly do not. They want things to be straightforward. You have the goodies and the baddies depending on your point of view. There is no wriggle room for nuance. No shades of grey. This makes everything a whole lot easier for many to get their head around.
Fast forward to last Thursday and I heard in the evening that Clegg was in considerable trouble and it was like someone had punched me in the gut. It was this soul-destroying pain. The realisation that the man you idolise in a political sense (and trust me, I do, even though he unfollowed me on twitter a couple of years ago, harsh Nick, harsh) is about to be turfed out of his job of 12 years just when his country needs him most is just bewildering to me. There are of course reasons, of which another blog post will get written but this is more of a personal account.
Now instead of being a key voice in talks protecting the form of Hard Brexit that most Remainers (and some Brexiteers) his role and future is more up in the air. He can pretty much do whatever he wants. He’s smarter than the average bear so to speak. There would/will be a queue of businesses and roles within politics that will be open to him. That is something that I am please about in a way, he’s now free to move on and get away from that vilification that has followed him for the past seven years.
One thing I do want to say is that I’m used to seeing Labour folks trashing him. They can rejoice in his demise because it is a fixation they have. What galls is how many Lib Dems are doing the same. They say he’s toxic and until he left then the party would never recover from tuition fees. Yet we just had an election that was called primarily as a referendum for giving the Tories a mandate for the harshest Brexit possible. Even the most ardent Clegg haters agreed that if you were against a hard Brexit then Nick Clegg’s voice and expertise were if not the best and most important (as I believed) in the House of Commons then definitely at the top tier. So him losing hurts those aspirations at what is a crucial time.
Nick Clegg was one of the smartest men in politics. One of the biggest assets the public had in the House of Commons. Love him or hate him but that is an accurate representation of the man. Now I know some people don’t want the best and the brightest representing them, they want more people like them and that is fair enough. That isn’t for me though. At such a time of volatility for the future, I want the best going in to bat for me. Sadly that will not be Nick Clegg at any point soon.
This saddens me deeply. If is such a small word but if things had just been that little bit different, Nick Clegg could have been the best Prime Minister this country had seen in generations. Instead we’ll never see what a Nick Clegg vision of the future would be and that might be the saddest thing of all.
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