Nick Clegg is one year old today. Well, his leadership of the Liberal Democrats is. LibDem Voice is in full cry marking the anniversary with a series of articles, so I thought I might as well add my twopennyworth.
In some ways Clegg had little to live up to. When he took over the Party was in the doldrums - demotivated, with many questioning whether it still had a role. If nothing else, Nick Clegg has steadied the LibDem ship. The two party squeeze continues to limit its appeal and Clegg's task over the next twelve months will be to give the LibDems a clearer definition. He started the process by trying to ditch the party's reputation for wanting to put up taxes. He did this by committing the party to tax cuts for the lower paid. This stole a march on the Tories and marked out the LibDems as the only party proposing any form of up front tax cut.
Clegg has also been unafraid to speak his mind on other issues, even when it has meant some uncomfortable short term headlines. His honesty over his lack of religious beliefs caused some to gasp in slight horror, but others saw it as a sign of a politician who is unafraid to be honest about himself.
Of course that honesty has also got him into trouble -the GQ interview and the "less than 30 women" claim being the prime example.
Clegg's main problem is that after twelve months he has failed to really connect with the electorate. He comes across as a nice guy, but a bit of a Cameron-lite. People get the impression that he looks a bit like Cameron, even sounds like him and his general political outlook and some of his policies feel quite similar to Cameron's. So the natural conclusion people come to is this: why should I vote for a pale imitation of the real thing? That is the real question Clegg now has to answer.
Clegg's main failure has been to establish a presence in the House of Commons, which has been traditionally a difficulty for all LibDem leaders. His task is made all the more problematic by the fact that his deputy, Vince Cable, is seen as a parliamentary messiah by much of the media. He has become a better performer at PMQs, but that is not saying a lot. He needs to sharpen his questions and avoid lengthy inquisitional questions.
In media interviews he also comes across as slightly petulent and tetchy, which is odd as he has quite a laid back character. But in most interviews he has an air of almost permanent exasperation. This is not a positive. I suspect it is because he finds it difficult to relax. I remember the Nick Clegg who I interviewed for a very enjoyable hour on 18 Doughty Street 18 months ago and compare him to the one I see in TV studios now. His media handlers would do well to compare the two.
However much the two main parties might wish to claim otherwise, the Liberal Democrats remain an important force in UK politics. With a hung parliament still a real possibility, they cannot be ignored. Their voters are still prime targets for another Cameron charm offensive, but in recent weeks it seems that some of them have been seduced by the questionable charms of the Prime Minister. In some polls the LibDems have been down as far as 11% in the polls, yet in others they have been as high as 19%. The true figure is somewhere in between.
But Nick Clegg knows that if the LibDems are to maintain their number of seats after the next election they will need a much higher rating than 17 or 18%.
Clegg made some brave moves in the last twelve months but found it difficult to get any traction. The next twelve months will probably determine whether the LibDems can maintain their electoral momentum of the last decade. I think the electoral cards are stacked against him and the best the LibDems can hope for is to hold on to the number of seats they already have.
So how do I rate his first year? Overall, a B-. It's a rating I suspect quite a lot of LibDems would agree with, even if they might be reluctant to say so publicly.
UPDATE: Fraser Nelson is a little more damning, HERE. And Nick Clegg reviews his own first year HERE.