Clegg: what goes up must come down

Nick Clegg has faced some tough questions after his recent gain in popularity. Photo: David Spender

Nick Clegg has faced some tough questions after his recent gain in popularity. Photo: David Spender

Nick Who? Three weeks ago, the question would not have been an unreasonable one. The launch of the Liberal Democrat manifesto was something of a non-event, the Party’s September conference was seen as a resounding flop by all papers except the Independent, and the prospect of them as ‘kingmakers’ in a hung Parliament sent a shudder down the spines of many. Then came the leaders’ debates.

The general consensus was that politics was crying out for change, and David Cameron seemed to be the only option. Cameron had spent four years establishing himself up as the agent of change – the heir to Blair. In 90 minutes, an ex-leftwing journalist and former European diplomat took that mantle from him with such ease that it almost beggared belief.

Frankly, that doesn’t surprise me. Having met Nick Clegg, I can attest that he is immensely likeable. He is well informed, good with people, and overall generally impressive.

He is also an exceptionally good debater, not least because he is an excellent public speaker and can make a very weak case very convincingly. Ironically, this is not far from Clegg’s task in the debates.

Once the public saw him in a situation where he was at his strongest they were, relatively unsurprisingly, almost instantly enamoured with him.

The bounce in the polls that followed seemed almost unstoppable, despite the best efforts of several media outlets.

Even in the second debate, Clegg managed to hold his own, defending his policies, and overall come out relatively unscathed.

He also successfully managed to shape the media debate for the next week, bringing the previously taboo issue of Trident to the forefront of the election, forcing Labour and the Conservatives to do battle on an issue that had previously been ignored.

Over the last three weeks however, things have started to unravel for the Lib Dems. As their policies start to become subject to intense scrutiny, the image of a Cleggian Britain has started to emerge. And it isn’t pretty.

Despite the media’s attempts to discredit Clegg, it is the Lib Dem’s policies that have caused the greatest problems for their previously flawless election-machine.
Vince Cable, often described as a “national treasure”, came under serious fire in the Daily Politics Chancellor’s Debate for his flip-flopping on the economy, including his previous call for Britain to join the Euro. Had his voice been heeded, Britain could now be in a worse situation than Greece.

Immigration is also a key issue in marginal constituencies, where the Lib Dems simply have to win in order for Clegg’s claim in Saturday’s Guardian that the race is now between him and Cameron for Prime Minister to be remotely feasible.

the image of a Cleggian Britain has started to emerge, and it isn’t pretty

However, Clegg’s amnesty policy towards illegal immigrants is totally unworkable, and came under serious fire in the last debate.

In fact, in a recent survey of 1,000 voters, they fundamentally disagreed with 8 out of 10 of the Lib Dems leading policies.

The two they liked were similar to a Tory policy for localisation, and a UKIP policy to raise the tax threshold to £10,000.

The policies of the Lib Dems may not work in practice. Their electoral success will depend on them stopping that information reaching the average voter.

Cleggmania rose. It can also fall.

5 comments

  1. I don’t see much backing to any of your assertions in this article…

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  2. 5 May ’10 at 1:28 pm

    Malcolm Tucker

    “Cameron had spent four years establishing himself up as the agent of change – the heir to Blair.”

    A massive contradiction here. Agent of change, or the continuation of New Labour? The two are quite mutually exclusive.

    “The bounce in the polls that followed seemed almost unstoppable, despite the best efforts of several media outlets.”

    You mean the Tory-supporting media.

    “However, Clegg’s amnesty policy towards illegal immigrants is totally unworkable, and came under serious fire in the last debate.”

    How is it unworkable?! It’s been done in numerous other countries around the globe. Just because you don’t agree with it, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t work.

    “In fact, in a recent survey of 1,000 voters, they fundamentally disagreed with 8 out of 10 of the Lib Dems leading policies.”

    A survey commissioned by the Telegraph, I expect. And conducted in Tory party headquarters.

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  3. 5 May ’10 at 3:03 pm

    Ieuan Ferrer

    I’ll agree that a lot of the Lib Dem policies are not liked by the majority of people – but that certainly doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the wrong policies for the UK. A slightly anti-democratic opinion, you might say, but, as many academic commentators agree, we do not have a proper democracy anyway, and won’t until the masses are rather more educated in relation to politics than they are currently.

    The Lib Dems’ policies on crime and penal reform are unpopular, but eminently sensible and evidence-based – unlike the other parties who focus more on pandering to the Tory press than anything else. Related to this is their policy to set up a committee of experts to remove drug policy from the intense (and disastrous) politicking it currently suffers from.

    The Lib Dem proposals for immigration are also unpopular, but are workable – and significantly better than the token cap that the scare-mongering Tories would want to introduce (that would only apply to 1/8th of immigrants, thank god). Furthermore, the transitional controls for immigration from the EU (a Tory policy), whilst probably a good idea, would hardly make any difference in the short term considering how few countries are lined up to join the EU in the near future – Croatia (a country with a population of 4.5m) being the only state likely to join within the next few years. Furthermore, the amnesty that you mention with distaste is already in place – it’s just that the limit is currently at 14 years, whereas the Lib Dems would change that to 10.

    When it comes to Lib Dem policies that people like, you’ve missed out their proposals for forming cross-party groups to deal with the areas that are most important, such as their proposed council for financial stability. And, of course, there are their policies relating to the reform/clean-up of politics. Whether these were included as questions in the survey that you mention is another matter.

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  4. 5 May ’10 at 7:29 pm

    Ieuan Ferrer

    Also, the Lib Dem manifesto launch, far from being a ‘non-event’, appeared to account for around half of the surge in support for them in the polls. The launch was on the Wednesday, and the polls that did their fieldwork between then and the debate on Thursday night, found Lib Dem support at 27%.

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  5. I hate to say it…but Peter was right.

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