Sunday, 10 April 2011

Cleggmania - one year on

It was the Liberal Democrat leadership debate in Edinburgh that first gave me doubts about Nick Clegg.  I was in Paris last year when the televised beauty contests first hit the screen in Great Britain and Clegg was hailed as a combination of Mother Theresa and Barack Obama, only for his party to claw a marginally-respectable result when people were left alone in the polling station.  It's not worth rehearsing the events since then in any detail; as it is very difficult to navigate the middle-class Labourites crying "treachery" on one side and the spittle-flecked shire Tories trying to work out why some of their old certainties have been discarded by their leadership.

Perhaps it's time to be kinder to Clegg than many feel appropriate.  Cameron was hardly the winner of a ringing endorsement after a government that in many respects was as disastrous as Major's - and he didn't outpoll Mister Tony's share in 1997.  Since then we have the fetishisation of "the cuts" as a promotion of Pigovian economics, and the failure to address the spread of crony capitalism.  We have the shibboleth of the NHS riding roughshod over practical politics, and the continued spread of the market into areas of society that really don't deserve such a shafting.

The real litmus test will be the AV referendum.  If a formal coalition fails to deliver that which was offered by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929 (and derailed by the Great Depression) then there is really not much point in propping up a National Government.  Clegg will need to be very careful should the referendum go the wrong way if the Liberal voice in politics is not to be assimilated by others - organisationally by the Tories and in terms of lip-service by Milibland.

Clegg spent the 2010 campaign setting up standards that he could never achieve in government, even if he had secured a landslide on a scale that Campbell-Bannerman would have been ashamed of.  Rowing back to realism is his greatest challenge - let alone presenting the positive impacts that the Liberal Democrats have actually had on government.

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