Thursday, 3 April 2014

Clegg has shown he’s still an asset to the Lib Dems. The party’s supporters should realise that.

Nick Clegg had nothing to lose in his debates with Nigel Farage. His ratings have been dreadful all parliament. Getting into a verbal ding dong with the Ukip leader about the merits of the EU was hardly going to give us the resurrection of Clegg from 2010 .

Instead, this was his chance to speak directly to his own supporters. To that committed but quiet bunch of Europhiles. To show Lib Dem activists that it is possible to govern with the Conservatives and still retain some essence of what it means to be a Liberal.
Let’s be honest, despite its importance, despite the fact that we’re beholden to many of its laws (whatever percentage they may be. We’re still none the wiser), the EU isn’t the kind of topic that gets people stirring. In fact, it’s pretty dull.

And that was part of the problem for Clegg. Extoling its virtues was never really going to cut it with viewers. Not much whooping and cheering to be had about trade agreements and low tariffs with our European neighbours.
Giving unelected bureaucrats and the elite (which of course being the leader of a political party, and an MEP who spends much of this time in Brussels, means Farage most definitely isn’t a member of the aforementioned) a good old fashioned tonking was always going to win most of people over.  

Clegg had the hard part, Farage was given the easy lines. And to be fair, I’m sure Clegg knew this beforehand.
These debates were about the Deputy Prime Minister rising above the bluster, the heavy rhetoric, countering the immigrant bashing hysteria, and the numbers plucked out of the sky.

This was about a Deputy PM behaving as you’d expect a PM’s number two to behave. And to this extent, he passed with flying colours.
Clegg was certainly a lot more confident and polished last week. A little too growly yesterday. When he spoke he did sound at times like the sort of technocrat Farage rails against for a living.

Most importantly, he sounded like he deserved to be where he is right now: Deputy PM and leader of some 57 MPs, yet still able to push through policies that have pleased his supporters.
He alienated a large chunk the moment he agreed to go into coalition. Even more when it became clear he had signed them up to a parliament of spending cuts. But, his party are in power and influencing policy way and above they have a right to given their size. 

Four years on, his position within the party seems more secure than ever. Despite the battering it takes in poll after poll.
Clegg will hope that this represents the start of clawing back some of the deserters. It won’t be an easy process, but as the two TV debates have shown, he won’t shy away from a challenge. The fact he agreed to do them tells you something about the character and resilience of the man.

With no natural successor in the wings, Clegg has shown that he’s still an asset to his party. His party’s supporters would be wise to realise that.
This first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Thursday 3rd April 2014

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