Wednesday 16 March 2011

Nick Clegg's career

The sun dappled rose garden at Number 10 Downing Street may have been witness to the pinnacle of Nick Clegg's career. The day when Clegg and new Prime Minister David Cameron strode out into the perfect early summer day, to tell the waiting press corps of their partnership that was going to change politics in this country for the better might be as good as it gets.

This was a theme of Clegg's General Election: look at those two fighting, he confidently told us in the TV debates, I'm different. He then proceeded to tell us why; mostly because he wasn't into name calling and told it to us straight.

Roll on 10 months and the Clegg world is a starkly different place. The confidence bordering on cockiness that helped him shine in the TV debates stood next to, a frankly knackered, Gordon Brown has gone. Now we see a bitterness in his words - desperation even. Clegg has evolved as a political beast - a now gravely wounded one - and has stopped communicating.

It would be wrong to totally right off Nick Clegg; a man of his ambition and intellect clearly has the capacity to bounce back. To do this he needs to remember why a minor cult developed - "I agree with Nick" they told us because he was someone fresh and new, communicating in a way they understood. Now even his own party don't agree with him.  

Deliberately picking fights with his boss makes him look untrustworthy, as does his fudge of trying to force through a costly, complex politicians fix of an Alternative Vote electoral system. Once he descends into using shrill slightly offensive language just to try and get his views reported by the media then it is clear he is losing the argument.

The basics of politics - in theory at least - are simple. Know your message and deliver it to your target audience in the most effective way you can. Clegg no longer knows what his message is or who he is trying to communicate with. Unless he remembers soon, then the scent of English roses may in future just begin to stick in his throat.


  1. A problem Nick Clegg has it that he is playing to two very different audiences. This is possibly making him unsure about how he presents himself because he will get stick what ever he does.

    He used the banker bashing rhetoric to soften up the activist audience before telling them to hold their nerve. For me the subtext of his speech on Sunday was that:
    1) Lib Dems will remain an independent party capable of forming a coalition with Conservatives or Labour.
    2) Lib Dems are the minor part of the coalition so they can’t have everything BUT they have been influential on X, Y, And Z.
    3) The long-term job for the Lib Dems will be to the permanent ‘centre’ conscious of successive UK governments.

    In my opinion, now that he has delivered this message he will go back to his ministerial persona, until the pressure of the AV referendum/local elections forces him to deal with his members again.

  2. Yes. This stuff about being the political centre gives him a position separate from the old soft-left identity the Lib Dems had.

    He needs to keep banging on about it. It gives off the right impression. I get the impression that the problem is that the only people who are willing to fight for a cleggite vision of the Lib Dems are too busy in government. He doesn't have enough other supporters so there is no one supporting a narrative for him in the press or with the more traditional soft-left majority of the Lib Dems nationally.

  3. Perhaps, if this analysis is correct, then we will see a swift return of David Laws as a key Clegg outrider but not in a senior position in governmnet that is so often discussed?


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