Nick Clegg’s problem – the hangover from 2010
Callum Jones ponders the governmental achievements of the Liberal Democrats, as he heads to their party conference in Brighton.
Justin Bieber. Cheryl Cole. Nick Clegg. Before this week an unlikely trio, but today it’s a safe bet that they’ll be the three most popular auto-tuned vocalists of 2012.
Here we go again. As I write this on the slow train to Brighton for the Liberal Democrat 2012 Party Conference, I can’t help but draw similarities with twelve months ago, when I was on my way to the 2011 event in Birmingham. We’ll undoubtedly be told over the next few days that the party has vastly moved forward since last year, but has it?
There have certainly been achievements. When I asked a senior Lib Dem for their highlights since the last autumn meet, they cited the raising of the tax threshold and the £1.25billion pupil premium fund as their party’s accomplishments. And of course, Nick Clegg’s upcoming number one smash-hit.
Looking at the Liberal Democrat power record on paper, they have done well. The issue, so say many commentators, has been the sudden transition from decades in opposition to coalition government. It’s so much easier to fight for those steep pledges for electoral reform and free education when you don’t make the final decision.
On Thursday night, I went to the pub. Most of my friends don’t follow politics with the slightest bit of interest (“what reshuffle?” one obliviously asked me after a twenty-hour day earlier this month). Yet, they all seem to know enough about Nick Clegg to confidently form a judgment – for some it’s frustration, for others it’s sympathy. They scarcely tune into Today, visit PoliticsHome or watch the News at Ten, but less than twelve hours after the deputy prime minister’s remixed apology video had been uploaded, they had all seen it.
None of us were old enough to vote in 2010, but the number of people our age expressing an interest in politics during the election was impressive. To Nick Clegg’s credit, he reached out to a new generation of voters. Sure, Cleggmania reached the bandwagon stage, but most people were genuinely intrigued by the man. After suffering the media stereotypes and turbulent teenage years, young people had a voice at last.
What goes up must come down. They don’t feel like that anymore. This, more than anything else, is the Liberal Democrats’ biggest problem – Clegg woke after that incredible party of May 2010 with a monumental hangover, and it hasn’t left him since.
Let’s be honest, whether they made firm election pledges or not, a junior coalition partner would always be in choppy waters right now. But, regrettably, that dark cloud of broken trust constantly looms over the Lib Dems. People of all ages made a leap of faith and put their electoral trust in a party which went back on its word.
The hurdle is communication. No matter what the party manages to do in government, it does not have the formal backing of a national newspaper. This means figures like Tim Farron and Simon Hughes have to work even harder to get their points across. But this was flagged up as an issue at the last conference, and their popularity hasn’t seen a drastic surge upwards since then.
Nick Clegg can champion political reform and the future of Westminster as much as he likes, but he won’t get past the scores of voters who feel let down. There are two things that the Deputy PM can do to improve his electoral woes before 2015. Firstly, reshuffle his priorities so that only policies which directly affect voters are at the top of the pile. Secondly, get into the studio and start working on a follow-up single – no one likes a one hit wonder.
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