Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nick Clegg: A Year of Progress or A Year of Disappointment?

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.


Unknown said...

Aside from the stupid walk-out and the refusing to vote that time, I think he's done fairly well. I still wouldn't vote for them, but they seem to be a bit less of a joke with him in charge.

Jimmy said...

Isn't Cameron-lite a tautology?

Obnoxio The Clown said...


Is such a thing even possible?

Mr Mr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheBoilingFrog said...

I have never taken Clegg or the Liberals seriously since the EU Treaty debacle.

From the replies I got from Lib Dem MPs and their colleagues in the Lords regarding the referendum I don't think they appreciate the damage abstaining on the referendum did to them.

Well I guess they'll find out at the next election.

Mark Senior said...

A year of steady progress with the odd hiccup but party leadership is a learning curve and perhaps surprisingly he has for the first time the best satisfaction ratings of the 3 main party leaders in the latest December Ipsos Mori monitor .

Icarus said...


Alex said...

There is no point in Clegg. Since the last time they were in government the LibDems have morphed into a party of dissenters rather than a party of government. That has had its attraction for some voters particularly in areas far from London (Cornwall, NW Scotland) where the economic and social differences from mainstream UK are so vast that it is worthwhile to tave an MP from a distinctive hue.

An MP from Sheffield, Eastleigh or Richmond does not offer the same distinctive perspective, hence the stagnation in the polls.

Anonymous said...

As the distance between Labour and the COnservatives becomes squeezed isn't there scope for thinking the unthinkable and some sort of "pact" between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Now that they (very broadly) seem to share something of the same tax cutting agenda and they both seem to have wised up to the authoritarian nature of the present government, they often seem to have more in common than separates them. The analogy of "Cameron-lite" is a good one because it seems to fit but in more ways than are immediately obvious. They are unmistakably children of the 80's (possibly why they look the same and seem to strike the same attitudes) as opposed to the mainstays of the government who, now, seem like legacies of the hippie 60's and very out of date in a lot of their attitudes (even to the extent of the legacy of their authoritarian hard left beginnings). To my mind they seem more likely bed-fellows in the event of a hung parliament than a Lib-Lab pact, even if everything else going on in the country at the moment seems so redolent of the worst aspects of the 70's.

Anonymous said...


As it turned out I didnt end up grading him at the end of my blog but if i had I was thinking more along the lines of a C lol...

Bill Brinsmead said...

Sort of bloke who appeals to the numskulls in my local Tory Party.

But wasn't Clegg a sometime lobbyist with GJW government communications?

Says it all really.

I hate DEFRA

Anonymous said...

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are doomed - DOOMED at the next election!


I have a dedicated Blog to Nick CLegg's mistakes= linked to this post!

When the economic mood is bad and times are hard (No reference to the No.30 there)- you need someone to make you laugh and Nick Clegg never fails!


Anonymous said...

Nick Clegg is a loser!It would not surprise me if he lost in Sheffield Hallam!

Why not have Jeremy Clarkson or Carol Vorderman as the Tory candidate. Either of them probably has wider name recognition than Clegg anyway!

Nick Clegg = Neil Kinnock without the safe seat!

Chris Huhne is likely to go down to a humiliating defeat as well!

Clegg & Huhne are like third rate comedians, indeed they probably rank along side Cannon and Ball in the comparable stakes for their positioning to the top of their profession!

Added to that Vince Cable looks like he is cruising for a bruising in Twickenham!

I heard of a group of LD Turkey's thinking they are going to retain most of the LD seats come the next election! Yes, right and no doubt these same MP's will be herding Dodo birds as well in their spare time. What a joke of a party the LD's have become - I think they need firstly to read the book on Hubris by Dr David Owen and secondly take a reality check!

I look forward to watching Nick Clegg getting in an animated Yellow Taxi on BBC election night, rolling a Neil Kinnock latex mask on his head and driving off to a new career!!! The BBC may even push the boat out and put a Reggie Perrin moment in at the end! I can hear the music now!Clegg has been an amusing sideshow but it looks like the curtain is going to come down on his career with about 35-40 other LD members of parliament.

A brief look back at Clegg’s time of leader shows one mistake after another or unforced error!The Sexual prowess boasts of 30 Women!

The revolt of LD members of parliament against Clegg’s failure to lead on Europe.

The Pension gaff when he thought the basic state pension was £30.00 a week!

The miming to a children’s nursery rhyme gaff!The most recent, the aeroplane gaff when he discussed a pointless reshuffle he has since dithered on and bad mouthed his rubbish frontbench members!

Man in a Shed said...

Maybe God doesn't believe in Nick Clegg ?

Unknown said...

Nick Clegg - very disappointing!

Would he get a job on Cameron's front bench if he was a Tory?

Maybe, but nothing important.

He is a typical Lib Dem politician - very woolly!

Anonymous said...

I think he's done pretty well in his first 12 months.
Can't get much liter than Cameron has been since the economy went pear-shaped. The Lib-Dems have done better on that score.

Anonymous said...


Would he get a job on Cameron's front bench if he was a Tory?

December 18, 2008 5:33 PM

Certainly if Cameron resurected the 'Minister of Fun' (Shadow) that David Mellor once had!

Failing that he could be the Shadow Minister for Farming. He would be in his element talking about a load of Sh1T!

Nick Clegg = LoL

Guthrum said...

We have a Government leading us into economic damnation and the best that HM loyal opposition can stump up is Clegg and Cameron

Anonymous said...

Clegg is nothing to do with HM loyal opposition.

LD's have delusions of grandeur by calling some of their spokespeople shadow ministers but in reality they are a band of fourth rate shysters.

At the next election the LD's are doomed - DOOMED! The LD's might as well just pack up shop and go home!

Anonymous said...

LD LD LD - Out! Out Out!

The LD's are the orifice of the Labour party! The help Labour cling to power!

Anonymous said...

"Nick Clegg: A Year of Progress or A Year of Disappointment?"

I think the Chinese call it the year of the Donkey!

Anonymous said...

He looks really cheeky to me!

Paul Linford said...

Part of Clegg's problem is that, in terms of "charisma," he was sold to the Lib Dems as some sort of cross between Tony Blair and John F. Kennedy. For all his thoughtful policy initiatives, when it comes to platform oratory and TV presence - the things he was supposed to be really good at - he has turned out to be more of a cross between Neil Kinnock and Walter Mondale.

Chucklenuts said...

You mean to say somebody actually cares?

Anonymous said...

Anton du Beck

Nobody cares really! It is an open goal though just like the dirty thirty by all accounts!


Nice picture by the way!

Nick Clegg = Neil Kinnock!

neil craig said...

He lost any credibility he could have had by breaking the party's promise on a referendum. Politicians who blatantly lie to the public should not be trusted by them again & usually aren't.

While his tax cutting promise would be nice he has said nothing about what spending he would cut to do so & without that it is merely another manifesto promise.

Without that you are left with more nanny statism, Ludditism & the only party still promising that windmills can deliver enough power to keep the lights on.

Adrian said...

As a long-time LD supporter, I was less than thrilled at the choice of Nick as leader, and for a long time afer his election the party became as faceless as he is. But I'm slowly coming round to thinking he's not that bad, and the party won't be as badly squeezed at the next election as I at one time feared. Not great praise, but sometimes there's virtue in mediocrity.