Former Socialist Students President Kieran Morgan saw Clegg’s collapse coming.
If ever you needed premonitions of Nick Clegg’s defeat on June 8, you need only to have gone to his pre-election surgery. A half hour’s walk up Eccessall Road past Endcliffe and Ranmoor, out of sight from university grounds, was where I had booked a place to meet our once Deputy Prime Minister.
It was all a bit hush hush if I’m honest. First, you had to book in advance with your name and address, then upon entry be struck off a list and accepted in. On the way there it was obvious Labour had a presence. The posters, the activists pounding the streets, and in one window there was even an effigy of Jeremy Corbyn with yet more ‘vote Labour’ posters. It was clear we had made inroads with the young. Evidence of what was to come? In hindsight, maybe. But this Labour party has been characterised by the ability to passionately rally people, especially the young. Upon entering Clegg’s surgery it was obvious I would be surrounded mainly by Liberal Democrat activists. The majority of questions being about the EU, many in wholesale agreement Corbyn had promised the “magic money tree” (to mirror the Tory line) and that we young, reckless, misguided individuals had been duped into believing the impossible.
He had the look of a man dejected and lost, battered and broken by the poisoned chalice of coalition.
Then my question came up. I could have mentioned that the debt-GDP ratio had increased from 65.7% to 83.8% during his time in office. But sparing myself being surrounded by the angry glares of Liberal activists I stuck to the point of his own seat.
“Mr Clegg” I began, or something to that effect. “I’m running an independent podcast in the university, and have Labour polling at around 75%, and the Lib Dems on 6%. Are you worried this is happening in your own backyard?”
He took it well. To be honest he had the look of a man dejected and lost, battered and broken by the poisoned chalice of coalition. But this was something that you wouldn’t need to have gone to his surgery to to know. Ever since 2010, that once bright young face that was ‘Cleggmania’ had had many a sleepless night. Possibly some in tears. But sympathy for this once giant of British politics dissipated the minute he answered the question. “Look there is no magic money tree, and you can’t make promises you can’t keep. I learned that and boy am I still paying for it.” Ok, I thought, keeping silent over our ideological separation. “Tuition fees under Labour’s plan would mean the poorest being taxed for middle class education.”
Is he for real? We all know the top rate of tax would go up under Corbyn to pay for it. And anyway, this is a long, long separation from the Clegg of 10 years ago. It’s probably the less obvious howler between this and his commitment to an EU referendum 10 years ago as well. But if only he’d stuck to his principles then he wouldn’t be such a despised figure among students.
People want direction, not a flip-flopping centrist with no values beyond the will to get elected.
At the end I begged him for a two minute interview, something he at first refused. Perhaps it was in the look of a man that had walked for over an hour and got lost on the way to the surgery where he recognised another desperate soul reaching out to be given a break. He lamented and I briefly put it to him on camera that he used to be able to campaign to the left of New Labour pre-2010, to which he basically agreed.
But now that Labour are back to the left where they belong, the legacy of Nick Clegg is where the country is now. We don’t want soft Tories, or New Labour, or the Lib Dems. People want direction, not a flip-flopping centrist with no values beyond the will to get elected. That’s why him, Blair, Brown, Cameron, Obama, Hillary, and soon Macron and Trudeau watch their popularity drop so rapidly. You can be young, sexy, appealing to workers and big business alike. But it takes only a few years of stagnation and disappointment for people to see the vacuous, PR grabbing, soulless individual you are. The centre is a dangerous, deluded place that wins votes and fails in office. And Nick Clegg is rightfully a victim of that.
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Image credit: Liberal Democrats.