Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Hardest Word

Two and a half years ago, Nick Clegg could do no wrong. A nation took him to its bosom, wooed by his direct and personal approach to the TV debates. He wasn't oily like Cameron or stiff and staid like Brown - he was less interest in cheap political point-scoring and more interest in direct down the camera appeals to the people at home.

So popular was he in that first debate that the Cameron moderated his approach in the subsequent debates whilst Brown famously began to parrot his "I Agree With Nick" line. The Lib Dems rose and rose in the opinion polls and Britain was in the grip of a three-way tussle for power...

...ah, yes, those were the days. Happy days. Where did it all go wrong for Nick Clegg?

Well, not enough people voted Liberal Democrat for a start. Too many people who did, voted for us thinking we were some form of LabourLite; paying scant attention to the bit where Nick clearly said "If there's a hung parliament I'll talk to the leader of the party with most seats first." 

Then there was tuition fees, a totemic issue if ever there was one... if only we could have campaigned as hard on tuition fees in the Coalition Agreement as we did in the campaign. Or not campaigned so hard on tuition fees given the likelihood of a hung parliament. 

Ah, if and only; two small words that together add up to so much. We've all uttered them from time to time. If only I'd done this, if only I hadn't done that. If ifs and ands were pots and pans, we'd all be washing up forever.

Fast-forward to today, and the pre-conference Party Political Broadcast. We could have expected a glossy "look at what we've done, imagine how much worse the Tories would have been on their own, Labour have no answers" video. Instead we had Nick, once more speaking directly down the camera. And saying "Sorry". 

When this landed in my inbox, I wasn't sure what I'd make of it but once I'd watched beyond the first quarter, I was genuinely impressed. Such a public mea culpa is a significant moment - it may not change much at this stage in the electoral cycle but it is significant. In a world where we are used to politicians obfuscating, it's refreshing to hear such directness.

It's true that the issue of tuition fees will be on every Labour leaflet at the next election (despite their own form on the issue). It's true that some people will never vote for the party again because of the issue. But it's also true that we needed to have this on the record so that we can move on to focus on more positive achievements.


N.B. My previous thoughts on the issue (from December 2010, are  here . Hopefully now we can begin to move on...)

1 comment:

Raybeard said...

While there may well have been some justification for Nick's spectacular fall from grace, its duration has been prolonged to an absurd length, and it really ought to have been put in the past by now. That's not the same as saying it ought to be forgotten - but, rather, any recollection of it ought to be proportionate.

Of course both Labour and anti-coalition Tories have a vested interest in keeping the subject alive and on the boil. From their point of view it's easy to see why they're doing it. But do the Tories REALLY think that they're capable of winning the next election single-handedly? - Dream on!

Clegg's apology yesterday was a gamble and one which I can understand as attempting to lance the boil. As at this morning it seems it might well have aggravated matters and played into his enemy's hands. But I think that on balance it was a chance worth taking.

Come the next General Election, whether Clegg himself eventually recovers or not won't influence me in my vote one iota. For many years I've swung between Lib Dems and Green and, if I do vote for the latter, Clegg's fate by that time (though I personally hope he will recover) won't have made any difference at all.

So let's just call it a day - PLEASE!