Nick Clegg: An Apology

John Rentoul

shrank Nick Clegg: An ApologyI have in the past suggested that Nick Clegg was an opportunist, and not a very good one.

Could he in fact be a principled, tactically astute leader who is going to secure long-term advance for the Liberal Democrat cause?

This is not number 388 in my long-running series of Questions to Which the Answer is No, because I have an article in The Independent on Sunday today wondering whether he might avoid the fate that befell the Liberal party in the previous peace-time coalitions of 1895, 1918 and 1931. In each case the Liberal leadership was absorbed by the Conservatives – in governments that made bad policy decisions – and the rump of the party that survived much weakened.

My argument is: that the spending cuts might look very different in four years’ time; that David Cameron has an incentive to give the Lib Dems something to show for their partnership; and that hung parliaments are likely to continue to be the norm.*

I think these hold good even if the people vote No in the referendum on voting reform next May, as seems increasingly likely, thanks mainly to the deepening conservatism of the Labour Party. Which is why there was a notable edge to the comments of Simon Hughes, Lib Dem deputy leader, in his interview with my colleague Matt Chorley today:

It is an entirely winnable campaign but only if we are really clear that people defending first-past-the-post are Neanderthal. Now, they may be our colleagues in government, but it’s an indefensible, unfair, illogical minority activity to defend the first-past-the-post.

We have got to go in really hard. It’s no good pansying round the edge and saying, ‘Oh well, the Tories have got a position, it is perfectly understandable.’ If you can’t support the idea that preferential voting and voting positively, not negatively, and getting a majority of support in your area is progress, then really you haven’t arrived in the 21st century.

*Update: Another apology; I meant to put in the link to Prof John Curtice’s article in Parliamentary Affairs, in which he provides the evidence.

Cartoon: Peter Schrank, Independent on Sunday

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  • Ciaran Rehill

    This is a rehash of your earlier post J. Come to think of it all your earlier posts are (Broxted bundled off stage into a van with Walter Wolfgang & Maya Evans).

  • Brian

    It might be an idea to present an argument in favour of your headline.

  • John Rentoul

    Thanks – I was assuming others were as absorbed by my recent ramblings as I am. I’ve amended.

  • davdos

    The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have won 20 of the 349 seats in the country’s single assembly, following Sunday’s general election. This seemingly small quantity of seats won by the SD is, in reality, more impressive than it seems as it reflects growing feelings against immigration Europe wide, and is quite a shock considering Sweden’s liberal and tolerant reputation. There is no doubt that immigration still remains a concern among the British electorate. So my point is, having supported Conservative cuts which affect the poorest and the lowest paid, the sick and the pensioners, and having an unashamed open door immigration policy, as espoused by Vince Cable, How can Nick Clegg possibly be described as a “principled, tactically astute leader who is going to secure long-term advance for the Liberal Democrat cause?”

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