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.