Opinion Writer Jack Parker reacts to the news that Clegg will stand againIn April 2010, a new fascinating character rocked our television screens, stating bold opinions on education and nuclear missiles. In the first ever televised debate between the leaders of the main political parties, Nick Clegg came striding to victory. Yes, it was victory against a posh Tory snob and a mumbling man with ‘smiling problems’, but still, a hard fought victory nonetheless.
By November he was u-turning on tuition fees, his popularity had collapsed and the once over-excited party faithful were throwing their ‘I agree with Nick’ bumper stickers and coffee mugs into the bonfire. Since then he’s been keeping busy privatising the NHS, kick-starting the third recession in as many years and launching a short-lived musical career. Recently, Nick was in the news again, as he confidently announced his nomination for the 2015 general election in his Sheffield Hallam constituency.
Sheffield Hallam is a serene, well educated part of the world, populated heavily by students and middle class professionals. Labour has never won there and the Tories have been a distant second since the Lib Dems swung into the seat back in 1997. With an 8,500 majority, it would seem Nick Clegg may well succeed in re-election, although it will be tough. Labour has gained considerably on Sheffield City Council since 2010 and is looking likely to unleash an armada of pain come 2015.
But that’s enough about Sheffield. Perhaps most agonising is the news that Nick also intends to stay on as party leader. This means his involvement in another round of debates and another six week media blitz. Nick Clegg’s apology will be excreted and regurgitated throughout Britain’s hospitals, privatised academies and the handful of remaining British factories. It’ll be the best free advertising the Labour party will ever get.
Even Liberal Democrats aren’t fond of him; a recent poll showed only 19% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 consider Nick ‘natural leader’. Only 5% of the voting public agree with them. His personal ratings are drastically and consistently lower than those of his party. These figures pretty much settle it. Between now and May 2015, the Liberal Democrats urgently need to find a new leader. Vince Cable may have been plotting a comeback and has refused to rule out a leadership contest. This may have not been such bad news for the party were it not for the fact that his demotion was caused by him offending the most powerful man in British media. Oops. Personally I’d like to see Lembit Opik rise to the challenge. If we’re going to laugh at the Lib Dems, we may as well do it properly.
Regardless of who leads them, the party is facing a nightmare in 2015. Not only have they done a u-turn on voters, but they’ve abandoned the heart of their own membership. That’s what I really hate about Nick Clegg and his cronies. It’s pretty bad to join a coalition and vote for cuts in order to honour your own voters and supporters, but the Lib Dems have gone a step further. Throughout, it’s been clear that their priority hasn’t been to lower tuition fees or cancel trident or any of the things that they campaigned on. Instead they have concentrated on the Alternative Vote referendum and House of Lords reform, both of which have failed and both of which were aimed almost solely at changing the system to benefit their own electoral math. They gambled their first step into power on an all-or-nothing referendum and lost.
That’s why, whoever leads the Lib Dems beyond 2015, it will be from their single row of the back benches, lonely and abandoned. But, unlike Nick, I’m not even sorry.